I’ve written a few things about being a disabled wrestling fan before; how hard it is to see people losing the thing they loved the way I lost things I loved, how wrestlers being inspired by disabled children isn’t that affirming, how the idea of someone stepping back into the ring and possibly dying doesn’t appeal. Most of these talk about watching wrestling from the comfort of my own home – and there’s a reason for that.
What’s the first thing you do, when you see a show come up that you’re interested in going to? Do you ask your partner about it? Do you see how far away it is from your house? Do you see if you can book time off work? Well, the first thing I do is try to contact the promotion and ask “What’s the accessibility like?”
This is a new thing for me. March 2018 will mark a decade of being disabled and chronically ill, and using a walking stick when out of the house/at events. A few years ago, I would never have asked about whether there were stairs, I would have just shown up and climbed them, likely hurting myself in the process. I would have dealt with the pain the next few days, because the idea of saying “I’m disabled, I need extra help” made me feel upset, and like I was demanding too much. But as I get sicker, and things get harder – and I’ve met more chronically ill and disabled people and become friends with them – I don’t want to shoulder that burden of pain anymore. If I’m going to watch wrestling, the pain is the wrestlers’ job. If they want me to hurt, then the promoters should be paying me.
The issue is, a lot of wrestling promotions just don’t seem to think about this sort of thing. Oh, I understand that things can slip your mind, but it’s 2017, an accessible venue shouldn’t be too much of an ask. I’ll need someone to tell me if there’s a lift, and I’l need them to do it before the seated tickets are gone. If you’ve been to wrestling shows, you’ll know that seating is often limited, and often more expensive than standing tickets, and it sells out fast, so the time frame is short in which I can get an answer and still get the seated tickets I want. Because I use a walking stick, and not a wheelchair, I need a seated ticket, as standing for a show would be impossibly painful.
I’ve had varied responses when asking about accessibility. Progress let me know that a venue wasn’t, and pointed out that all their others were, and I was even offered help if I did end up going. WCPW let the venue handle it, and I was told the area for disabled patrons would be further back and we could reserve our space. Fight Club: Pro have so far not bothered to respond to me at all, though another fan did respond saying that he ‘suspects’ the venue should be okay. No one has yet offered to have wrestlers carry me up a flight of stairs to my seat, which disappoints me greatly.
The awful word I hear a lot is ‘should’. It ‘should’ be okay, you ‘should’ be alright, you ‘should’ be able to manage. When I’m spending money, that’s not good enough. I’m paying to go somewhere and watch wrestling, not arrive and be told that there’s the equivalent (in pain and energy) of a 5k run between me and my seat I’ve paid for. And the truth is, while I might turn up now and see stairs, and sigh, and climb them, in a few years, I might not be able to do that. I might be using a wheelchair, in which case, those stairs become insurmountable without assistance.
At the WCPW show I went to, so far my only live event, I got lucky, and got a seat the first night (despite not paying extra) and stood with the barricades to lean on the second night (which was agonising). At least, I thought I was lucky, until someone shouted ‘move’, and the crowd cleared aside – and I was left still trying to get out of the way. I didn’t make a decision that being hit by a wrestler would hurt less than moving fast, I just literally could not move that fast. And that brings me to another worry, because, I’m very, very short. I want good seats, so I can see what’s going on, but I don’t want to end up with a lap full of wrestler. At least, not with force; if someone wants to come and sit on my knee, we’ll discuss that privately. And I worry that telling a promoter that I’m disabled and use a walking stick will mean people trying to tell me I can’t sit near the front.
I know how this works; I work with children in a swimming pool, I’ve got a good grasp of health and safety, and having a member of the audience break a bone or get kicked in the head because a wrestler expects them to move in time is absolutely not good health and safety. But giving up the joy of being so close to the action, the chance of a grasp of a hand with my favourite wrestler – it’s hard to do. It’s hard to accept that maybe being safe is the better option, and I’ll just have to try and find the performers after the show if I want to have that moment of meeting. I’ve got a stick, I can trip them if they’re moving too quickly for me to catch.
The big gripes of being disabled at a show are the jostling, the possibility of stairs (and stares), the potential liability of a ballistic wrestler pinging into me, and the worry that all the seated tickets will be gone before you know if you can get into the venue. The little gripes are things like chanting – ever tried clapping along when you’ve only got one free hand? -, trying to carry two pints and a wallet back to my seat when I’ve got a walking stick taking up one hand, and people who don’t look where they’re going catching your stick with their foot and sending you sprawling.
I’d love to see promoters deal with the things they can change. Progress, with their quick sell-out records, could afford to keep a couple of seats back, available on request for a short time after tickets go on sale, for disabled fans and their carers, to ensure that fans who can’t stand for long can still get to shows. In places like WCPW, where they use a ramp for wrestler entrances, they could suggest that disabled fans and those nervous of flying wrestlers could stand near there, allowing a good view but less danger of impact. All promotions should tell you if their venue is or isn’t accessible on the event page and the ticket page. Fight Club: Pro should ask Trent Seven to give me a piggyback into the venue. Small, reasonable changes could be made that would overcome the difficulties disabled fans face, without inconveniencing the promotion too badly.
As for a question of why should they? Well, technically there’s a law, although as far as most disabled people have worked out, no one cares about enforcing it. But more importantly than that, we’re getting wrestling promotions supporting people of colour, supporting queer rights, supporting women. Leaving disabled people out in the cold (because you chose to hold your show up some stairs) shouldn’t be something you’re okay with. You want people to come to your shows because they love wrestling, you want them to enjoy what you’re putting out there, and you want them to give you money. Well, my money’s as good as theirs – and what’s more, if you help make my experience easier, I’ll come back. I’ll be loyal. I’ll tell everyone I know about how you made the effort to make me want to be there.
If you give me a chance to have back, just for a few hours, the joy and rush of doing something I truly love, and being part of the crowd? If you make me feel like my disability isn’t that insurmountable, or that big of a deal? You’ll be giving me back something that’s been rarely felt since I got sick.
Oh, alright, and I’ll buy a t-shirt.