The mother of a disabled Glengormley boy has called for concert venues to be made more accessible for people who use wheelchairs.
Laura Rossborough was speaking after her son, Oran Murphy (13), who has spina bifida and hydrocephalus, was refused access to the VIP section at the Ariana Grande concert at Dublin’s 3Arena last Sunday (September 22).
Speaking to the Newtownabbey Times, Ms Rossborough said: “Oran is a massive fan of Ariana Grande. He got to attend the ‘meet and greet’ at her concert in Dublin two years ago. Our tickets for the previous show were upwards of £500 each, but it was the best experience. Oran got in the VIP section when he was still a wheelchair user.
“This year we got tickets for a meet and greet, sound check party and early entrance. We got an email in the first week of September to say the meet and greet had been cancelled and we were to get a part refund and that the package was changed to a VIP package.
“When we got there, we were told Oran couldn’t enter the VIP section in his wheelchair. We were placed up on a balcony and there were people blocking Oran’s view throughout the event. It was pitiful and felt like we were an afterthought.
“Music is Oran’s life. He knows every word of Ariana’s songs and the dance routines. He had been talking about this concert for months, but was devastated that he couldn’t go down to the front like everyone else.”
She claimed: “This is happening all the time for people in wheelchairs. Children like Oran are not getting the same opportunities as able-bodied kids at concerts and events like this. It feels like they are second class citizens and things need to change.”
Oran attends Hazelwood Integrated College and Ms Rossborough praised the Whitewell Road school for supporting her son, adding: “Oran is treated so well and people look out for him. Staff and other students have been supportive.”
The Newtownabbey Times contacted the Mae Murray Foundation after hearing about Oran’s experiences. The Larne-based charity was set up to allow people of all ages and abilities to take part in activities, experience the world and enjoy friendship together in an inclusive environment.
Alix Crawford, chairperson of the Mae Murray Foundation, said: “Sadly, access to the arts in general is a topic we are frequently contacted about by our membership. Whether it’s a theatre, indoor or outdoor music event, many barriers still exist.
“Issues include lack of wheelchair seating or seating at the rear of venues only, no thought or planning to allow a group of friends to book seats which include wheelchair users - often it’s wheelchair plus one standard seat only. If an individual needs to bring a personal aid, then it means they often can’t bring a friend.
“There is a lack of opportunity to purchase VIP experiences, no planning for wheelchair users to be able to be able to dropped off or picked up at venues at a safe, level accessible point. Not all chairs can mount a small kerb.
“Poor booking processes and unbelievably, many venues and events still do not accommodate basic toilet needs for those who require changing places toilet provision.”
Alix added: “In this modern age, entertainment venues and promoters should be working together to ensure they are doing everything within their power to offer all members of the public equal access.
“Obviously health and safety is a priority and all planning must be risk assessed, but often venues or promoters simply haven’t explored options to accommodate.
“We are here to help. We can visit venues and offer the benefit of our experience, to benefit our members and the wider public. We would welcome contact from any venues or event organisers, including outdoor music festivals who would like to find out what they can do to be inclusive. There are often simple solutions, so please ask!”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the 3Arena said: “On the night of the concert, when we were made aware that Oran Murphy uses a wheelchair, we explained to him and to Laura Rossborough, that we could not accommodate them on the floor of the venue. It is unsafe for the person using the wheelchair and poses a potential problem should it be necessary to clear the venue quickly.
“We apologised to both of them and accommodated them on the balcony in front of the stage that is designed to for wheelchair users.
“We would encourage anyone wishing to attend a concert at the venue who has reduced mobility to click on the ‘accessible tickets’ button on the top of the page, when booking online, so that we can make sure they can experience the event safely and with the best possible view.”