Ticketmaster makes 'huge step forward' for disabled music fans
For years, deaf and disabled music fans have faced huge barriers when it comes to booking concert tickets.
Whether it's the requirement to call premium rate help lines, or having to provide evidence of their disabilities, the experience has put many fans off.
Now Ticketmaster is introducing a new system that allows gig-goers to book tickets online "like anyone else".
BBC reporter Alex Taylor, a wheelchair user who regularly attends concerts, called the move a "huge step forward".
Ticketmaster's scheme allows fans to submit details of their disability online. Once validated, the information is bound to their profile, meaning they can book tickets for all future gigs without extra effort.
In participating venues, accessible seats will be clearly labelled on the seat map like any other ticket - whether that's in the range of a hearing loop, or in a wheelchair-friendly zone, with a free companion ticket.
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"It's something we've been seeking to address for some time now," Ticketmaster's MD, Andrew Parsons, told the BBC. "Fundamentally, all fans deserve equal access to live entertainment.
"The plus side of this system is that, in the future, the fans won't have to do anything. They will be able to buy their tickets like anyone else."
The booking system was soft-launched in two venues, Glasgow's SEC and Cardiff's Motorpoint Arena, a fortnight ago.
"The feedback's been really, really positive," said Parsons. "We're very keen to roll it out to a host of new venues now; and I'm challenging all of our teams on that."
He said that arenas in Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle would be enrolled in the scheme by the end of the year, with more venues in more countries to follow in 2020.
"This is fantastic news for disabled music fans, and we hope other businesses will follow Ticketmaster's lead," said Kristina Barrick, of the disability equality charity Scope.
"Buying tickets online is not just about convenience. For disabled people whose impairments mean they can't use a phone, this will be game-changing."
Analysis - Alex Taylor, BBC News
Ticketmaster's new system is a huge step forward for the disabled community - the end of a needless digital divide. The traditional accessible ticket line route (specialist phone numbers open at set hours), is not only laughably cumbersome and time-consuming in the digital age, but also the opposite of accessible for disabled people, especially those who may have difficulty using the phone.
Now, finally, a major player has begun to take the plunge (albeit tentatively), helping explore technology's full potential as an accessibility tool. Of course this is not before time and could've happened sooner. Research by the UK charity Attitude is Everything has been vital in highlighting the issue and forcing companies to take their earplugs out. Enabling disabled customers makes financial sense: The purchasing power of the community, known as the purple pound, was estimated to be worth around £249bn to the economy in 2017.
But more work needs to be done. Launching at SEC Hydro, Glasgow and Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff shows willing but far from a full UK-wide commitment (Birmingham, London?), although Ticketmaster promise further roll-outs.
Ultimately, this is a first-step, a warm-up to a headline act of ticketing equality that I, as a wheelchair user, have longed for my whole life. The whole point of music, and art as a whole, is that it is accessible to all - and most powerful live.
Ticketing shouldn't be a barrier, but a route in. I'll meet you at the front.
More than three million disabled people attend a concert every year and disabled music fans make up 11% of the live music audience, according to government statistics.
But the UK charity Attitude is Everything, recently found that 82% of deaf and disabled music lovers had faced difficulties attending live music events, while 83% had been discouraged from buying tickets because of inaccessible booking systems.
In response, it launched the Ticketing Without Barriers Coalition, and worked in conjunction with Ticketmaster to design its new system.
"I'm delighted that Ticketmaster's accessible ticket sales will go online," said the charity's CEO, Suzanne Bull in a statement.
"This is real progress for millions of disabled fans who are entitled to a variety of ways in which they can book their tickets".
A similar scheme also exists for the Birmingham NEC, Birmingham Arena and Resorts World Arena, via The Ticket Factory website.
Ticketmaster stressed that their dedicated phone lines won't be closing - with the new system simply an option for fans who prefer to go online.