Talking Accessibility @ The Current

Wait, what?

Ok, this was a big awesome week! Unbelievably big and awesome!

Who knew when I wrote my last post about seeing Maggie Rogers and accessibility at the Armory, that Mary Lucia from Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current would reach out and ask to interview me? Of course, I said yes – anything to raise awareness of inclusion and accessibility in everyday life, which includes going to see live music.

If you haven’t already, Listen to Looch and share with your friends, family, and music lovers! Next time you go to listen to live-music, check out ADA options and see if you’d want to sit there.  As I mentioned in the interview, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) a quarter of our population has a disability – accessibility and inclusion for all matters!

Feel free to share your experiences of accessibility in live-music venues and keep the conversation going. Big thanks to Mary Lucia and Luke Taylor for reaching out and bringing light to this issue.

Listen to Looch: talking with Justin Smith, music fan and accessibility advocate post on The Current website

Listen to Looch Interview with Justin Facebook post

Listen to Looch Interview with Justin on YouTube

Lastly, change up from my regular red Converse. These are awesomeness. Just an all around awesome week!

Black and white checked Van tennies

Maggie Rogers at the Armory: Accessibility Check

Ok, that question that everyone is asking about: how accessible was the Armory and how was the music?

First part of the question is definitely what I want to talk about, but starting with the music – amazing. NowNow was the opening band. I’ve been listening to their music and interviews so was familiar with their music and story. They were awesome and hope to see them more in the Twin Cities since they’re a Minnesota band.

Maggie Rogers was everything I expected. She has an amazing voice, lyrics that were bringing people around me to tears, and the dancing!  There was so much energy in the room.

For the accessibility portion, well, the Armory was absolutely nothing like the Varsity or Palace. I think they can do better and here’s how:

  • Have dedicated ADA seating closer to the stage. Paying the same price for a ticket and having the dedicated seating in the back of the balcony sucks. This seating is a half a block away from the stage. Why not have some reserved ADA seating closer to the stage in the balcony and also closer to the stage on the main floor? I did decide I wanted to be on the main floor and of course, the tallest guy stood right in front of me. My chair does raise up, but I’m not able to move around for a better view on a packed floor. I liked being on the main floor but it would be nice to have a little bit of a protected area for people with mobility needs. The images below show what I would have seen from a distance in the ADA seating in the balcony, my driving to the main floor and my view of the concert stage from closer up on the main floor.
    • Tip for concert goers who use wheelchairs: Get there as soon as the doors open to try to get standing room places closer to the stage in the balcony or on the floor.
  • Train your staff better. I’ve been so impressed with staff at the Palace and Varsity because all of them go out of their way to make sure you find the ADA seating and that you have what you need to have a great experience. The Armory was good at noticing us in line and leading us over to the elevators where they checked our bags and tickets. That was good. The difficult part was that each person leading us led us to another person who would then lead us to another person. We got on the elevator and the elevator guy saw we didn’t have wristbands. So, had to go back down so we could get wristbands. Waited for the elevator again, and rode up to the balcony and the elevator guy said ADA seating was right there at the back and told the other people there’s a chair on the side, which there wasn’t. He did eventually bring a chair back up, but it was confusing and no one was there to help the other group or us. We tried to walk closer to the stage to see if there was any room that would work to see better, but it was already pretty packed on the stage end of the balcony.
    • I repeat – Tip for concert goers who use wheelchairs: Get there as soon as the doors open to try to get standing room places closer to the stage in the balcony or on the floor.
  • Elevator wait times were excessive. At the end of the concert, we waited in a line for the elevator and the elevator didn’t seem to be coming. After probably about 10 minutes, we gave up and went to see if there was another elevator. There was another elevator on the other side which came more quickly. Made us think about what would have happened during an emergency or fire. No one is going to pick up my 300-pound wheelchair and carry it down the stairs… You have to use the elevator to get on the main floor or balcony levels from the street level.
    • Justin and man waiting for elevatorTip for wheelchair users: There is a 2nd set of elevators at the back left facing away from the stage. They seemed to faster than the ones on the right, which is where they’ll take you for the ADA seating in the balcony and also go to the parking.
    • Tip for people who don’t need to take elevators and take them anyway: Take the stairs if you are able to take stairs. When you don’t, that means we get to wait even longer. I shouldn’t need to say it, but think!

I will go to future concerts at the Armory because I love going to concerts, but I know that accessibility isn’t the greatest for me here. I will plan on getting there earlier and carve out some space on the main floor knowing that I’ll be stuck there until the end of the concert because there won’t be a way to get out. That’s probably not terribly safe, may damage my wheelchair, but, I’m paying for an experience and don’t want to be relegated to the back of the room.

Justin dancing with othersJustin and his dad in the crowd

Appearances may be deceiving OR how something might appear accessible but in reality…

Here’s a quick story of what was to be a short walk with my mom, on a lovely sunny day,  to the new accessible little park down by the lake. And when I say accessible, I mean NOT really at all accessible for me or probably any other wheelchair user. In fact, they probably could have left the curb cut out because people are only going to get more stuck the further they go.

Part 1 – “Lovely day for a walk to the lake”

Says my mom, all the time! It’s a holiday in the U.S. so I went along. I drove my chair while my mom tried to keep up. I wasn’t even on the fastest speed.

Part 2 – Look the newly redone little park even has a nice curb cut

Says my mom. One car and bike go past and the next car stops to let us cross the street to the park. Mom takes a couple pictures because really, it’s nice that our township redid this park and tried to make it more accessible. Right? We should post and tweet about that, it’s a good thing.

Justin in wheelchair on curb cut with path to lake ahead

Part 3 – ZZZ WRONG!

We start our way down the black, rocky path which is wide enough for a wheelchair. So, that’s good. My wheels begin to sink as we near the bench. We maybe should have stopped here. But, thought it would be easier to turn around if we went down to the turns or to the bottom of the path. Again, WRONG! We got to the lower turn on the path, and my drivewheel was spinning deeper and deeper. I was spectacularly stuck.

Justin in wheelchair with wheel sinking into rocky path

Part 4 – Dad to the rescue

Mom can’t get me unstuck. Mom calls dad. Dad drives the several blocks to the park. Dad also thinks maybe we can get turned around on the larger rocks at the bottom of the path. Both mom and dad are able to help drive and push me to the bottom. I didn’t go into the lake. I swore. Dad swore. Mom maintained her calm, positive outlook on the situation. Dad gets me out of my chair and carries me back up the path where my mom holds me on the bench. Reminder for all, I use a wheelchair, because I am not able to sit independently, let alone walk. My dad wrestles, pushes, drives, swears his way up the path with my chair until he passes us on the bench and gets it back to the solid curb cut. Mom and dad carry me from the bench back to my chair. (Sorry, no pictures of dad pushing chair since mom was holding me on the bench and dad was pissed – imagine the pictures we could have taken!)

deep tire tracks in rocky path

Part 5 – MOM, YOU’RE INCORRIGIBLE and when designing for accessibility, perhaps someone should do some user testing to see that it’s actually accessible

Nothing more to say about adventures with mom part. Really, I do love my adventures with my mom. Even though we seem to get stuck at times…

Whoever designed this park and whoever from our township thought they were making a park that was wheelchair accessible were wrong. I doubt that anyone tested this out with an actual human being who actually uses a wheelchair. I use a power chair and the path failed horribly. I don’t even know how someone who is using a push chair would make it on this path. It’s not packed down solid enough.

The flowers are lovely… I just don’t get to see them up close, anymore.Justin smiling with park and lake behind

NEXT ACCESSIBILITY CHECK: Maggie Rogers concert at the Armory in Minneapolis later this month.

Pride, Prejudice & Accessibility

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that this blog must be in want of a classic accessibility check and a Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennett.

Jane Austen’s books are great, but Pride and Prejudice is one of the perfect examples of what is it that constitutes 19th century love. Take Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. They don’t even like each other and it takes several months and an insulting first proposal before they know enough about each other to overcome the pride of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth’s prejudices. I loved this book!

I also love Bookshare and wouldn’t be the reader I am without it, but the web reader’s pronunciations of abbreviations can be irritating. For example, instead of saying Mister Darcy, the web reader says M –  R and pauses like at the end of a sentence then says Darcy. There are 61 chapters in Pride and Prejudice and each has at least 10-30 Mr.’s and Mrs.’s in them. The mispronunciation of abbreviations kind of ruins the flow of the story. This doesn’t happen in every book I read, so I don’t know why sometimes it reads properly and other times the web reader doesn’t.

I sent a note to Bookshare asking if there was a way to have the web reader for Bookshare pronounce abbreviations like Mr. and Mrs. as Mister or Missus. But, there isn’t. So, if you’re looking for a good accessibility project, figure out how web readers can better read abbreviations. It’s 2019, time to figure this out. By the way, I read my draft of this post using Read Aloud in Microsoft Word before copying it to WordPress. Read Aloud reads the abbreviations correctly. Bookshare doesn’t work in Microsoft Edge although it’s supposed to be coming soon. Maybe that will work better?

Hang on a second, weren’t you at an outdoor concert?

Yes at Surly Festival Field. Accessibility was great and I thought that the music was ok. More of my parents’ nostalgia bands than the types of music I like best.

Accessibility report for Surly – get there early to get accessible parking. We got there by 5:30 and gates opened at 5:00 and did get a parking spot. We had to walk about a block and a half from ADA parking to where they were taking tickets. Not sure if they would have let us in at the exit gate which was closer to where we parked. We did exit from there and that was convenient. They had a ramp to a raised platform by the sound booth so were able to see over the crowd of people and didn’t have to drive on uneven ground. Pretty good seats although the platform also filled up pretty quickly with several of us using wheelchairs, a couple knee scooters and others who needed accessible seating. I would definitely go to concerts there again.

Busy week coming up

Can’t wait to see John and Hank Green on Sunday! Anyone who reads my blog knows just how big of a fan I am! I have tickets in the 7th row at the Pantages Theatre. I’m excited that they have wheelchair seating so close. Usually in theaters like this, I end up paying the same as everyone else but the only choice is to sit in the back row. That’s annoying! Especially, if you also have hearing loss like I do!

We’re also going to try to go see Elizabeth Warren at Macalester on Monday. I want to hear from as many presidential candidates as possible to see who I like best.

My brother leaves for college on Thursday… more on this later.

For my web accessibility friends out there, I was trying to find if using the WordPress Tiled Mosaic is accessible. I used the Tiled Mosaic for the grouped images like I have for the concert pictures and pictures above from John and Hank Green events. I just can’t tell if people using screen readers can hear the alt text for the individual images or if I should just add them as individual images. Let me know what you think works best. Thanks!

A couple things

Football/Soccer

My dad and I got last minute tickets and went to Allianz Field to watch Minnesota United FC vs. Houston Dynamo. We won 1-0. It’s great to be able to do more stuff now that I’m in my fourth week after the surgery.

It was too late to purchase parking online (all looked sold out) so we thought we’d see if we could find wheelchair accessible van parking in a lot near the field. It looked as if there were a lot of accessible parking spots available in the lots but since we hadn’t purchased parking online we couldn’t park there. We ended up finding a street spot where I could drop the lift about a block away. So, free parking is always good.

The stadium itself was amazing. We sat close to the Wonderwall fan area – so it was super charged with energy and excitement!

United is my favorite US team and AFC Wimbledon is still my favorite first love. Maybe someday I’ll be able to go see an AFC Wimbledon match in person! Until then, it’s United FC to watch live soccer!Justin in wheelchair looking at the field in Allianz Stadium

Bear that Shines

Guess what? I got an email that said this, this week:

“You have been selected as a 2019 Manitou Days Bear That Shines! Earlier this year we requested nominations of people who lived in our school district who have made an impact in our community, with the goal of recognizing 22 Bears that Shine (one for each day of Manitou Days). Your name was submitted with a description of why you deserved this award.”

So, if you’re in White Bear Lake on June 13th, stop by Marketfest. I, along with the other Bears that Shine, will be recognized at around 7:15 at the Gazebo in downtown. Watch for more info about this on the Manitou Days website.

I am honored that the person who nominated me recognized how I try to make an impact and be a voice for inclusion in my community. Thank you!

Recasting

I’ll be sedated on Thursday to get my casts replaced. Hoping to see my toes again and that they’ll scratch my legs before putting the new casts on! Please, scratch my legs!!! Ever notice how your legs itch even more when thinking about and writing about it?

The Interrupters up close

Amazing concert on Wednesday at the Varsity Theater! Can’t even describe how awesome this concert was! The pictures say it all – this band is energizing and exciting. Justin and dad in front of theater marquis for sold out Interrupters April 3After the last song, the band threw t-shirts, drumsticks, guitar picks, and sheet music out to the crowd. The lead singer, Aimee, saw me and brought me a hat! And I got a hug – after she asked if it was okay to give me a hug! It’s always good to ask!

You’ll never believe this – the manager noticed us and asked if we’d like passes to meet the band after the concert. I still can’t believe it!

We hung out while the crowd left. And then got to meet the band – who by the way are incredibly nice and cool! They didn’t know it, but it’s going to be a rough several months for me after my foot surgery in 3 weeks. This concert and meeting them, is going to make it easier to go through the rough times. Thanks Aimee, Kevin, Justin and Jesse! Never underestimate the impact you have on people who are going through hard times.

Fight like a title holder 
Stand like a champion
Live like a warrior
And never let ’em break you down

Title Holder YouTube video

Finally, the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis was very accessible for me. After getting our tickets sorted out, we went to the reserved spot that was right up front to the left of the stage. We didn’t check out the accessible bathroom so can’t report on that. My chair elevates so I raised it up to standing height and it was amazing to be so close to the stage. The security guys were awesome – gave us water and earplugs and were really nice.

Interrupters on stage

Can’t wait to see the Interrupters again. Maybe Duluth in July??? Hopefully am recovered from surgery by then!

Find out more about the Interrupters and their concert tour on the Interrupters website.

Justin and Kris in concert crowd

Barriers to Inclusion Part 3: Employment

In the 2018 fiscal year, 16 percent of Minnesotans with disabilities who received state services worked in the community alongside people without disabilities.  Chris Serres, Star Tribune, 3/16/19

How is this real? That number needs to be a hell of a lot higher than 16%. I am NOT one of the 16% by the way… although I did get paid to be a keynote speaker a year ago. That was my first and only paid work.

We have to rethink what employment looks like and be open to a variety of work options for people with a wide variety of abilities. For example, I want a part-time job with the option to work from home. I love to write and advocate for disability rights and am good at public speaking. I love testing out assistive technology, applications, and pretty good at using WordPress. I have a lot to offer, it just takes me longer to do what I want to do.

I think it’s time to rethink traditional college and how some of us with disabilities can get our first jobs – especially those of us with severe physical disabilities. I’ve written about this before, but the amount of time and energy for me to take just 1 college course is a lot. One college course means that I have very little time for doing anything else like writing in my blog, getting out in the community, advocating for disability rights, or more importantly going to concerts. I’m not sure it’s the best use of my time and would take me about 8 years to get an Associate’s degree. So, what kid of job am I going to get without a degree? Or do I need to create my own kind of work because when I’m not a college student, I don’t get to do internships or have those other entry points into the writing or communications work I’d like to do.

Smiling Jennie Delisi, Jay Wyant, Kris Schulze and Justin Smith

Let’s all get more creative and figure out how we can connect people with jobs, especially those of us who aren’t following traditional paths.

Read the article Minnesotans with disabilities fight barriers to inclusion, unfilled promises by Chris Serres. Really, read it right now! And share with all of your friends, family and random strangers!

And read the first two parts of my Barriers to Inclusion blog post week. Really, read them right now! And share with all of your friends, family and random strangers!

Barriers to Inclusion Part 1: Inclusion

Barriers to Inclusion Part 2: Caregivers

Here are a couple of  posts from a younger me related to college and work:

20

Inclusion in Action

Random Thoughts

Justin in wheelchair with movie lights, 2 men looking at him with video camera