I cried in the soundbooth last night.
Third Eye Blind’s music serenaded me from the stage as I put down my camera and gave myself a second to push out all the emotions that had built up in me.
Last night was my first time shooting from my wheelchair at a venue I had grown familiar with last summer. I had rolled from place to place the entire show, looking for a tiny window of space between people. Wherever I went I was blocked by someone, someone always just happened to be directly in my view. I had never felt so small before. Everything I had learned last year was unhelpful. The venue felt unfamiliar from this new angle.
The soundbooth was my fourth place I tried. Higher up above the crowd, it’s usually a fantastic spot for full stage shots, great for capturing the gorgeous rays of light that zigzag across the band.
But this low to the ground I was still blocked by the crowd. Heads of fans blocked the band members almost perfectly, as if they were positioned there purposely. So I cried. Just for a few seconds. I took an eight count to compose myself, and then I kept on. Because even if these were the worst photos I’ve ever taken, at least I knew I didn’t give up.
We had found out before the show that the barricade was set up so narrow, it was unlikely I could fit. But it was yet to be proven impossible, so I rolled down to the stage as fast as I could, and gave a nod to the security guard. He eyed my photo pass, and let me through. I squeezed myself between the speaker and gate, pinching my fingers but pushing on, to the videography platform set up at the side of the stage.
The view was better, but still not great. So I took a deep breath, summoned every ounce of courage I had, and waited for the videographer to take a rest. When he did, I hesitantly tapped his arm.
“Do you mind if I come up there with you?” I yelled, gesturing at the box he stood on. And to my surprise, he welcomed me up. My PA helped me stand, and while I clung to the gate, he hoisted my wheelchair up to the platform, then lifted me up. I sat down, and was finally able to breathe. I could finally see the band clearly, for the first time that night. I was finally able to do my job.
The next day I called the head of photography at the venue, and explained my struggles the night before, and what accommodations may be helpful in the future for me. I was beyond terrified to bring this to his attention. What if I was asking for too much? What if these requests crossed a line? What if I got blacklisted from the venue?
But as I explained my needs, the exact opposite happened. He started brainstorming with me, suggesting ideas that would make my job easier, that I would have never even thought of. He helped me establish a new plan for future concerts, so that I was well accommodated for, that gave me an even playing field with the rest of the photographers. He gave me ways that I could simply do my job.
Advocating for yourself is scary. But no one else is going to do it for you. We live in an inaccessible world for so many people, and until that changes, you are the only one who will get you what you need. I’ve been advocating for myself since I was 12 years old, and while a child shouldn’t have to stand up to teachers threatening to take away legally required accommodations, that self-advocacy is the best skill I or anyone could have. Teach your children how to advocate for themselves. Teach yourself how, and practice that skill. You are valid, your needs are valid, and you are allowed to speak up and ask for what you need. And I’m here for you if you need the encouragement. The more we all speak up, the more accessible our world will become.