Half Access Org: Creating Change as a Community
Last week, we had the chance to chat with Cassie Wilson, founder of Half Access. She's making it easier for music lovers to find accessibility information on venues. As a music lover and music journalist, Cassie says its something that would've been helpful in her own life.
Through our conversation, we realized that the Half Access directory could be incredibly powerful for folks that organize events in nightlife too.
Cassie mentioned that there have been instances where touring bands like pop punk group, Real Friends, created accessible spaces for her when the venue did not. When emailing the venue didn't work, she tried tweeting the band. Real Friends made sure there was space for her to see the show and feel safe.
What is the Half Access vision?
"Venues making changes."
Cassie: Over the next year, our main goal is building our database of venues. Based on information gathered in the directory, we’ll know where changes need to be made. Pretty much every venue has something that they can improve - we just have to create resources, and be a resource ourselves, for venues that want to do better.
How did half access begin?
"The idea came to me in April. It developed more in May."
Cassie: The idea of Half Access came to me at the end of April 2017. I created a Google Form where people could enter accessibility information on different venues. We have information on 100 venues from those submissions.
In May 2017 I saw the application for a contest. The non-profit branch of Hopeless Records ran a competition where they asked fans and bands, “if you were given $10,000 to make the world a better place, what would you do with it?”
I applied for Half Access - the goal was creating the database and redoing our website. Half Access won and I accepted the grant at the Alternative Press Music Awards last summer.
The decision to become a non-profit just naturally happened because of the grant we won last year. Since we started off with that recognition that there’s people that are willing to financially back us, we decided to go the non-profit route.
how does the directory work?
"The directory is the foundation."
Cassie: I’ve had a lot of experienced with venues not having any/decent accessibility information online. The directory is the foundation. We need to know what needs to change before we can do anything. It’s also a great resource for artists and industry folks that are planning events.
The directory is user-generated information. You can input objective & subjective information. It starts by filling the form - they're objective questions that anyone can fill out. There’s also a space for subjective comments - you can include positives, negatives, & suggestions on how the venue could change to become more accessible to you. Those questions remain private.
The subjective information is more helpful internally. It’s hard for people to speak up because they may believe that it could lead to worse treatment - that’s why anonymity is important. Once we have information on a venue, we’ll send the venue a link to the info we've gathered. It gives them a chance to fact check and add to it.
"The directory is global."
Our primary focus will be the U.S. because that’s where we are located & have the most connections. We're taking it one country at a time but the database is worldwide!
what are some questions we can ask venue owners? To see if we're hosting events in accessible spaces.
Cassie: Physical accessibility is what I deal with, so even I have a lot to learn about the other aspects of accessibility. There’s a lot to consider! Accessibility is subjective - it changes based on what people need.
"Ask about physical accessibility."
Sometimes you can get Inside but not to the actual show space. It’s important that people can see what’s going on and feel safe at the same time. A lot of venues think that if we can get inside, that’s enough. But ultimately if you’re sitting in the back, you’ll just be seeing a lot of butts! And ask about Restroom Accessibility. That’s usually the catch with these venues - there’s stairs to the restrooms or the stalls don’t have enough room for wheelchairs.
"Ask about the Lighting."
Even if it’s not changing the lighting, posting signs is really helpful. If there’s going to be strobes or intense lighting, post a warning for people with epilepsy or lighting sensitivities. My friend Ellie started LEAD DIY - she created a set of signs that indicate if a show is safe, dangerous or in between. It’s really important that folks are aware of the situation they’re getting into. Lighting tends to change from show to show, so signs are a good preventative measure.
Take a look at Ellie's Go Fund Me page for Lead DIY.
if you don't work in music, how can you show support and solidarity for disabled concert goers?
"It’s about starting conversations and looking out for one another."
Cassie: I know a lot of disabled people that have had other people touch them or move their wheelchair without permission. Definitely don’t do that. And if you see someone sitting at the back of a show, ask if they’re doing okay.
Also, pay attention to your surroundings. One time I was sitting towards the back of the crowd, before a show started. Someone that assesses buildings for accessibility was casually attending the show. He went to the staff and told them “hey - she has every right to the same experience as me. You should put her somewhere she can see.” With someone else speaking up, they almost immediately moved me. It’s weird that other people have more power than me in those situations - but that’s what tends to happen when there’s a lack of training around able-ism and accessibility.
Sometimes show goers will sit down in between bands and, while it’s definitely not safe, some people literally can’t stand for that long and there’s nowhere else to go. Sometimes at concerts, people have this “show mode” where the crowd can become really difficult if someone does something different.
Are there similar organizations that allies can support (through donations, volunteering, etc)?
"Attitude is Everything in the UK."
Cassie: A lot of people are becoming more vocal about it which is great, but there aren’t too many organizations in North America. that’s why I started my own thing. But there’s a TON in the U.K., including Attitude is Everything.
Business practices in nightlife are different from corporate settings.
Does this change the conversation around venue accessibility?
Cassie: Because every venue is so different, there’s only standardized accessibility on the arena level - they’re the ones with the money to do it and they serve so many people. In terms of smaller places, a lot of things are overlooked because there isn’t a guide.
"We can create change in a more community-oriented way."
Compared to more corporate spaces, nightlife is more DIY and community-based. We believe that venues will change because they care about the communities they serve. It’s definitely slipped through the cracks because things are so different. At the same time, we can make change in a more community-oriented way. Through conversations and connecting people to resources.
What would your dream venue look like?
Cassie: The dream would be a space that’s fully accessible to every need and accommodation. I would feel included with the crowd without necessarily being in the crowd.
"Staff who never question your needs."
Active listeners who work with the disabled folks that they serve. They are adaptable and will figure out how to implement new solutions when new scenarios come up.
"Lots of Accessible Parking!"
I get dropped off at shows, so parking is part of my ideal venue. There's usually no parking, only street parking, or we have to use the truck unloading zone. A lot of venues around here are also on very steep hills too. If I’m not going to the concert with the person driving, they’ll have to push me to the venue, so I can get there safely. It's really frustrating. My dream venue would have such a big parking lot with lots of accessible parking.
and finally, what music are you listening to right now?!
I like anything that branches off of alternative rock - nothing too heavy. I like a good sing-a-long. Pop is what got me into music and so I never get tired of that. I like singer-songwriter stuff too.