Radio One DJ, Jameela Jamil tells Able about a new events company that specialises in making sure that there is full accessibility for a large number of disabled people at music venues.
What’s different about Why Not People? is that rather than have them at the side or on a platform, separated from their friends and family, they’ll be at the front, in the middle of all the action with their friends and family.
Who are you aiming to help?
We cater to people with different impairments, so that’s physical, hearing, sight and so on. For people with hearing impairments we even have SubPac technology which allows you to ‘feel’ the music.
It’s a very safe environment because as a members club we know about what you need and we look after you.
How do you integrate wheelchair users into the audience, rather than having them on a separate platform?
We have a seating structure; three seats and then a wheelchair – three seats and then a wheelchair – so you can bring up to three of your mates and two wheelchair users could be next to each other – it’s just collapsible seating basically. We’ve had the chief medical officer of the Paralympics oversee the whole thing.
If you look at Wembley Arena, there are 90,000 seats but out of those only 0.35% have disabled access – at Wembley Arena, one of the most developed buildings in our country! That’s a pretty strong reflection as to how negligent we’re being. We’re basically shutting out a huge portion of our society – 11.8 million people have a disability in this country and it seems embarrassing to me that businesses don’t open their doors to them.
If Wembley had more wheelchair spaces would they sell more tickets?
The point is that we’re still shutting out a huge portion of our society and its embarrassing how few people you see with wheelchairs or walking aids out and about in clubs, bars and restaurants and you just think: ‘well, it’s because there aren’t ramps or railings where there should be’. There is one disabled access toilet for every 10 non-disabled access toilets.
First of all, every toilet should be accessible – and obviously every so often you have places that are in the basement; I can understand that it’s very difficult, but people have to make the necessary changes.
Disabled people have a spending power of £80 billion – it doesn’t have to be a charity thing – it should just be something that businesses do in order to make money. Stop looking at people as a pity case – just look at them as relevant customers who are just looking to go somewhere to shake of the week.
Have you had to ‘sell’ this idea to venues? Have the figures helped you?
Yes, they really have and I think it’s also been about watching my best friend who has cerebral palsy, miss out socially so much because of his disability, because he’s treated so differently. There’s still this awkwardness around people with disability because they’re not seen socially on a day-to-day basis. I just think that that’s so embarrassing because I was disabled for a period of time before and I’m no different now to who I was then – I can just walk now, whereas I couldn’t walk then. I find it embarrassing that we’ve come so far with all of our technology and we can’t make these basic gestures.
Members of the scheme can buy tickets for themselves and three of their friends. So the choices are in their hands for a change…
Well, that was purely because I knew we’d have an amazing line-up (of artists doing accessible gigs) and I didn’t want all of the tickets to go immediately to people who didn’t have a disability. I wanted to make sure that the room was full of an equal proportion of people with disabilities; that was really important to me. So I like the fact that if you were the only one who had the chance to buy the tickets, that people with disabilities would be in control. That way with the members club, we’d be able to see who was coming and make sure that we’d be able to take care of them appropriately, according to their condition.
It looks like you’re also aiming for this to be a social community
Absolutely, the thing is that we want to eventually have our own kind of online presence when it comes to having chat rooms where you know it’s safe because the people would all be members and they could meet up at gigs.
We’re looking for it to be a whole social movement because we’d like to change the fact that it doesn’t feel as if disabled people are being integrated properly into society. That’s why we want them to be able to bring their mates along. Rather than it just be a room full of people with disabilities, we want to show that clubs can be full of variation and that it can be a great night out – and that its fun and everyone spends money and they go home and they’ve had a lovely time.
You’ve got a great line-up of artists wanting to play accessible gigs. How did you get Ed Sheeran and Coldplay involved?
I just called them and asked. Why wouldn’t they? Who wouldn’t?
Perhaps that’s it… It’s about asking why don’t you..?
Exactly. I didn’t need to shame anyone into it; everyone just thought: what a great idea. Why hasn’t it been done before? That was exciting for me – really nice. There was so much love from all of the artists. I wanted to go for the biggest because I wanted to prove to other venues that haven’t bothered to make their places accessible that big artists do come and they do want to play to this audience and that this audience do want to come out and buy the tickets – so it’s way overdue.