First Time @ First Ave

I am now an official Minnesotan – not only born here but finally have gone to First Avenue! Thanks so much to the Current for the invite and tickets for their 15th Anniversary bash. I got to see a bunch of bands including 26 BATS!, MaLLy, Seratones, The Bad Man, and Grammy-nominated Black Pumas. It was beyond amazing!

best moments ever

I especially loved the Bad Man set. They were youthful and energetic. I was dancing non-stop! The lead singer, Peter Memorich, threw out t-shirts towards the end of their set. He pointed back towards me and threw the shirt way back past the sound booth. Well, my dad could have broken my chair when he tried to catch the shirt and caught himself on my communication device, but didn’t. The shirt deflected off of him and landed in the chair behind my mom. A woman picked it up and gave it to me. The band’s producer who happened to be standing near us, also gave me a t-shirt. For Peter, to take the time to come and say hi after they were done playing – that was simply awesome! One of my most awesome moments of the night – thanks for reaching out Peter and David!

The Bad Man on First Avenue StageI’m not going to say much more about the rest of the bands – they were all awesome. I’m still swaying, dancing, and singing the next day! Go to the Current’s website and watch each of the bands. Recap and photos: The Current’s 15th Anniversary Party

Thanks to the Current for introducing me to so much new music and to local music. And thanks again to Mary Lucia and Luke Taylor, for finding and interviewing me last year about local music venues and accessibility. Talking Accessibility @ The Current

And, now on to the…

accessibility report @ First Ave

The most difficult part of wheelchair accessibility after having a snowstorm the previous night and bitter cold that day, was parking. The lot next to First Avenue hadn’t been plowed very well and the accessible parking hadn’t been plowed at all. Paths hadn’t been cleared between the lot and the sidewalks. My wheelchair got stuck as we tried to plow through the snow to get from the lot to the sidewalk. Thanks to the folks who stopped and helped get me unstuck. It takes about 5 or 6 people to get heavy power chairs unstuck, btw.

Once we got in to First Ave, it was, can I say again louder this time – AMAZING! Accessible reserved seating was right behind the sound booth. I could see the stage really well and it was fun watching the sound guys! After 26 BATS! we went over to the merch tables to buy some stuff and then we went up front on the side of the stage to watch MaLLy. It was fun to move around and check out First Ave from some different areas. I could have stayed up front for the entire show, but decided it might be hard to leave if I needed to, since it was a sold out show and it was going to get even more crowded. It’s difficult for anyone to move through really crowded spaces, and nearly impossible to move around in a wheelchair.

Can’t wait to go back and see bands at First Ave – it was a great experience (except for the winter weather/parking part).

Seriously, take the time to listen to each of these bands on the Current’s website. Next time any of them are playing near you – GO check them out!

 

Seat at the table in #OneMinnesota

On Monday, I went to the Legislative Forum sponsored by the Minnesota Council on Disability. Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan were both there – the first time that a Governor or Lt. Governor has come to this Legislative Forum. It was also great to hear from the legislators who were there to talk about what’s coming up this session and to listen to disability advocates about issues important to us.

My communication device had some technical difficulties so I wasn’t able to ask the questions that were important to me. Here are some of those questions:

How might we:

  1. Create more affordable, wheelchair accessible housing?
  2. Explore creative options for co-housing communities to include people with or without disabilities?
  3. Expand the use of Consumer Directed Community Supports (CDCS) so people with disabilities have more options and choice for living independent lives? CDCS allows me to choose my own staff and pay them livable wages. But, my case manager says that if I switch to traditional Provider PCA services, that I’d get a 25% increase in my annual budget. This isn’t fair – why do people using CDCS get smaller budgets?

First Avenue Tonight for #Current15

Tonight – I’m off to First Avenue for the Current’s 15th Anniversary show. Thanks to the Current for giving me tickets! Super excited – my first time going to First Avenue! I’ll let you know more about accessibility at First Ave and how the show was tomorrow! In the meantime, check out Mary Lucia’s interview with me about accessibility at local music venues. Talking Accessibility @ The Current

2020 Goals

I don’t do resolutions for the New Year, but I do have a ritual where I write the goals of what I know that I can accomplish.

Politics

I am extremely excited for this election season because we get to choose who our elected officials are – from my local representatives to state and US representatives and senators and President. I’m also nervous for that same reason and lots of other reasons. Participating in the political process matters because the people we elect make decisions on laws and policies that impact people with disabilities. Elections matter! I will be doing a lot more posting about this leading up to November which brings me to the next goal which is…

Blogging & Writing

It brings me great joy to get the word out about living with a disability and I want this to be a community-building effort. So, please like, retweet, share on Facebook, and comment on my posts. This is what helps us all connect. It also helps me know that my voice matters.

So, I see my blog and writing as my vocation. Yet, it’s an unpaid vocation. I would like to explore how I might earn a little income from what I love to do. Something I’m going to do in the next year is look into how I might monetize my blog. There are pros and cons to this and I am going to look at all sides before I make my decision.

This has been my joy of my life to write. Without writing, I don’t know what I would do. So expect lots of blogging from me this year. I also have a goal to finish the novel I’m writing by Valentine’s Day. Then will start editing in the spring.

Living life

Finally, and this is an ongoing thing, continuing to explore and figure out along with my parents, how I will live independently.

Check out one of Chris Serres and Glenn Howatt’s recent article for why this is so difficult to figure out: Disabled Minnesota residents often live in costly isolation. You can check out my blogposts from last year about what I would like to see in my future:

In the next several months, you can find me at my computer, a concert, a rally, primary, or caucus! Happy New Year everyone!

 

I want to dance in the graveyards

Fine Line accessibility report

I went to the Delta Rae concert at the Fine Line last week. Accessibility, like at most venues, was a mixed bag. There is no information on their web page about accessibility.  I emailed them to ask about wheelchair accessibility or accessible tickets. They replied pretty quickly and informed me to buy general admission tickets, that I just needed to email them my name and needs, and they would have a space reserved for me.

When we got to the show they escorted us to a spot right by the stairs up next to the stage. LOVE being right up front! This spot allowed direct access to the bathrooms and for most shows would have been great for seeing the band. For this show it offered great view of the piano, see photo. My father (aide for this outing) said that once the room filled it would have been difficult (not impossible) for me to move around.

As for the concert, the opening act, Liz Longley, was incredible. If you like folk music, you are in luck. Check out Outta my head.

The main attraction was a band called Delta Rae, an interesting group (interesting in a good way!). They are kind of southern folk rock. It was awesome to get high-fives from band members as they were going on and off the stage! Watch the Dance in the graveyards video – it’s awesome!

Want to know my thoughts on other local live-music venues?

Talking Accessibility @ The Current – Interview with Mary Lucia from MPR The Current

Maggie Rogers at the Armory: Accessibility Check – Armory

The Interrupters up close – Varsity

GOTV and CHVRCHES – Palace

Show Up and Dance with Me! – Palace

Pride, Prejudice & Accessibility – Surly Field

NaNoWriMo and More

What is that? Are you making up words?

Happy NaNoWriMo and what am I talking about?

November is National Novel Writing Month in which people attempt to write fifty thousand words in a month. Thanks to my friend, Annie, who let me know about this. We’ve been friends/writing buddies ever since going to Nerdcon in high school.  I am currently writing a novel and the resources and goals in NaNoWriMo have given me some stretch goals. Because it takes me longer to write, I am going to be writing 20,000 words this month – am shooting for about 5 hours of writing a day! Also learning more about writing tips and craft from NaNoWriMo.

So, writers – go get inspired and check out NaNoWriMo!

My accessibility @ musical venues update

Went to a benefit at Hook and Ladder last night. All very accessible and looking forward to seeing Trevor, my main daytime staff guy, play there in January. You can valet park right at the door, drop a wheelchair lift and unload. That’ll be great in the winter!

This week I got tickets to go to a concert at the Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis in a couple weeks. For ADA seating, you need to buy general admission tickets and then contact the Fine Line to let them know you’ll be coming to the show, so they reserve some space for your wheelchair. They don’t have any of this in the FAQs, so had to send an email to ask about ADA seating. It would be great if all of our music venues had some info on their websites about accessibility at their venues. Makes it easier for us to know what we’re rolling into.

If you missed it, you can watch Mary Lucia’s interview of me about accessibility at live music venues. Check my last Talking Accessibility @ The Current post for links to the interview.

Back to writing

Got to get back to my novel (a YA romantic mystery about a young woman who has Cerebral Palsy, uses communication device, power wheelchair and she is awesome!) Time for more main characters who have CP in literature, movies, everywhere.

“Writing, or at least good writing, is an outgrowth of that urge to use language to communicate complex ideas and experiences between people. That’s true whether you’re reading Shakespeare or bad vampire fiction — Reading is always an act of empathy. It’s always an imagining of what it’s like to be someone else.” John Green, How and Why We Read, Crash Course English Literature #1

Justin and Annie in front of poster with John Green quote
Annie and Justin at NerdCon in 2015 with poster of John Green quote behind them.

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