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The Joys of Inclusion

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to go to see ABBA Voyage at the ABBA Arena in Stratford, London, UK.

I had bought the tickets off of a lovely lady I met in a group for people with disabilities; I was a little concerned about transferring them, and how easy things would be.

Well, I really couldn’t have asked for anything better!

The ticket transfer was simple and painless; TicketMaster were incredibly helpful. And they emailed to confirm everything the day before the show! I also loved that my plus one was referred to as my companion, and not my carer; yes, my partner does have to care for me sometimes but, going to an event where I could just refer to him as my companion, making it feel more like a date with him, rather than being with the person who has to help me up and down stairs (and many other things), was much more preferable.

I saw that I could get Blue Badge parking. I haven’t had my badge long, even though I have been disabled all of my life; I was reticent to apply for one, due to my own internalised ableism, and thinking I just wasn’t “disabled enough”, but, having had it for a few weeks now, oh my goodness!! I love it!

In non-disabled parking spaces, I would have to put one leg out of the passenger door at a time, twisting my hips and back, causing twinging and spasming, and more so if it was a cramped space; my left side is usually worse, so it would put extra pressure on my arm and shoulder as I maneuvered. Being able to park in disabled spots is so much better! I can swivel my whole body around a quarter turn left, putting both feet down at the same time, and use my right arm on the top of the door to pull myself to standing. It hurts so much less! And there’s space to wiggle in! There’s no trying to squeeze between cars, making sure my stick doesn’t touch anything but the floor. Brilliant!

Anyway, I booked the Blue Badge parking (which is free!) at the ABBA Arena. I was expecting to just be in a spot, a little closer to the door, and I would have been okay with that. But, oh no! This is an experience! We followed signs to the disabled parking area, and every staff member we passed on the way was lovely and helpful, giving us directions (they were very simple directions, which is good). We got to a shut gate; I held up my badge with a smile and we were greeted with bigger smiles and welcoming beckons to come on through.

As we were getting out of the car, a delightful young man came over to us, introduced himself (Wonderful WIlliam; I added the wonderful), and said he and his colleagues were there to help our day go smoothly. He escorted us the very short distance to the entrance; then got us through bag and ticket checks quickly, before showing us into the foyer. He pointed out where everything was, told us where to go to get to our seats, and said he would be around at the beginning of the show if there was anything we needed assistance with. We thanked him profusely and went to find food.

There were hardly any queues at the food stands (we went to a 3pm show, which might make a difference) and the lovely person behind the counter made sure I got my vegan hot dog the way I wanted it (no mustard).

We looked for somewhere to sit. This is one of the few issues we had but it has absolutely nothing to do with the venue or the organisers, but more to do with inconsiderate audience members. Although there was quite a bit of seating, nobody offered it to me, or anyone else that was using a walking stick; myself and another lady propped ourselves up against a wall (to be fair, it was a higher standard of wall).

When we had finished eating, we went to the shop. A very tall couple knocked into me a little, then stepped in front, jumping the queue; again, audience inconsideration, rather than anything at all to do with the event. Sometimes, I would say something but I was in such a good mood, and so excited to be there, I just did a simple gratitude mantra of being grateful I am me and not someone who would step on others - literally!- to get ahead.

I generally have a policy when using the toilet that, if the toilets are on the same floor, I will use the mainstream ones, as I can get in a cubicle with my stick; however, on doing that the first time, there was a long queue, so the other times I used a disabled loo. I would say that the sound of flushes from close by toilets seems to be louder in the disabled toilets, so something to be aware of if there are any sensory processing issues.

We went into the auditorium.

We couldn’t quite work out where our seats were so we went down a few shallow (so much better for me) steps to ask a member of staff where they were; he apologised for making me walk down steps! It was very kind of him but it was entirely our fault that we couldn’t work it out; he then escorted us back up the few steps and took us to our seats, reassuring me I wouldn’t have to walk up or down another step in the venue afterwards.

Our seats were fantastic! The accessibility seats are a single row around the stadium, with a low partition in front, so there was no need for anyone to walk in front of us; that’s always a relief, as, at events normally, I am constantly on edge, trying to ensure no-one gets close to my blistered, always painful, feet, or waiting for people to jostle into me.

The auditorium was beautiful! Looking around, it seemed that, no matter where you were sitting, you would get a fantastic view. Where the stage was, was a projection of a woodland scene, where movement occasionally happened. Even though the auditorium was full, the gentle sounds of the calming music and bird song covered the noise of people, without being intrusive.

On the way into the auditorium were signs asking us to not take photos or video the show; before the show started, a voice over the tannoy said they would like to keep elements of the show a secret, so reiterated to not take photos or film. Obviously, there were selfish idiots who did not care about that and continued to take photos and film. The person sat next to me, who was a carer for a young adult using a wheelchair, filmed, ignoring the person she was with, until a member of staff reminded her, very gently, that she wasn’t meant to be filming; it was only then that she started interacting with the young person she was with and joining in with the crowd as we sang and clapped.

And that’s enough negativity. Back to the amazing bits!

The lighting was incredible! I have never seen lighting used so effectively and so beautifully. It was very clever!

And, the show, well, WOW! Just WOW!!! I won’t tell you much, as it is a spectacle to enjoy first hand but I will say that I got a bit emotional at 'Thank You for the Music" (like many people, music has been a large part of my life; if you've read my book, you'll know how much), and, with the excitement of the event and the utter awesome-ness of it, the happy tears were hovering; A bit later, “Dancing Queen” came on; I will say that it’s not my favourite ABBA song to dance to (that, and others I love, had already been played), and that I had happily been chair dancing, but, caught up in the emotion, I turned to my partner, as he was already lifting my stick up off the floor, and I stood up and danced!! I was so caught up with the overwhelmingly joyful feeling throughout the auditorium that it felt almost spiritual! I will also add that the space enabled this; again, I didn’t have to worry about people getting too close, so I could just join in, without worry (I may have invaded my partner’s space a little, though, as I was so immersed.)

Then, at the end, ABBA, the real life, human, ABBA came on! (It's opening weekend so I don't think it will be an every show thing). My tears flowed! I just felt so happy! I turned to my partner and just said,

“It’s all so wonderfully emotional!”

Back in the foyer, we chatted to a few people, pretty much all just going, “Wasn’t that wonderful?!” And I got to have my photo taken with two gorgeous humans, who I thought looked utterly fabulous!

We headed back out to the car park and the car parking staff were all so lovely! I felt like I was a VIP (my actual initials! 🥰), Everyone was so smiley and attentive. And Wonderful William was there, chatting to everyone, being incredibly helpful, checking we had enjoyed the show.

He shook our hands, wished us a safe trip, and said he hoped to see us again soon; we said we very much hoped for the same.

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