Houston Music Venues and the Disabled: A Report Card
Outside Walters Downtown
Photos by Jack Gorman
When planning an evening out, many considerations come into play before going to a concert. How early do you need to arrive to get a good spot? Is there going to be a lot of traffic on the way? (If going to Cynthia Woods, the answer is likely yes.) Did you buy your tickets in advance or are you picking them up at the door? Do you have enough cash to buy merch afterwards? The list goes on and on.
But for people with disabilities who want to catch some live music, the list is much more exhaustive. Securing a good spot to see the band can be much more challenging if you have to sit throughout the show. And never mind staircases, even single steps up to an entrance or bathroom can create complications. While a small, dirty bathroom stall may be an annoyance to an able-bodied individual, it can be a lot of trouble to get in and out of for others.
Musician/writer Sean Gray, who also runs a pair of record labels out of Washington D.C., has written about the difficulties about going to shows for those with disabilities. To help those looking for information about this topic, earlier this year he started a Web site called Is This Venue Accessible. It serves as a guide to venues across the world, big and small, in terms of how accessible they are. As Gray says, “There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to inaccessibility, but information is powerful.” Asked about specific things to look for, Gray responded with the list below as things to consider beyond what comes to mind first.
• There are never too many details.
• Look out for any kind of steps, even if it’s just one to get into the venue itself.
• No need to measure the stairs, but it's worth noting if the stairs do things like turn or seem steep.
• Even if there are stairs, are there railings? Which side? Is it a sturdy railing?
• Is the stage a tall stage? Could you sit down in a mobility device (i.e. wheelchair) and not have to look up?
• Could the restrooms fit a mobility device in them? Is there a wide stall? Are there railings in these restrooms? Are the doors heavy?
• Does the venue easily indicate whether an elevator is available, or who to contact if someone needs assistance?
• How well lit is a venue when a band is not onstage?
Thinking about these factors, the Houston Press reached out to a variety of the music venues in town, big and small, to ask about their accessibility and try to get a deeper sense of how accessible each venue is, up to and beyond the standards set by the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list of every part of every venue, but rather a starting point to spread awareness, information, and build from that. We encourage everyone who reads this to consider all the above factors the next time going to a venue, and add to the list as needed. While it’s one thing to talk to the people who work at the venues, it’s important to note that just that may not necessarily encapsulate the experiences of those who attend. Please, through the comments, email, or by contributing directly to ITVAccessible.com, help by adding more information so together we can have a comprehensive guide of how accessible our city’s music venues are.
7326 Southwest Fwy., 713-772-5900, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Arena Theater does have wheelchair accessible seating along with companion seats. According to Celia Cervantes, the venue has no steps or stairs. There is also a row (Row H) where there is plenty of leg room in front to accommodate patrons who might need to extend their legs for any reason.
Bayou Music Center
BAYOU MUSIC CENTER
520 Texas, 713-230-1600
According to general manager Drew Dixon, BMC is fully compliant with the ADA. Accommodations include wheelchair-accessible bathroom stalls in each bathroom location throughout the venue, assistive listening devices, wheelchair-accessible and companion seating, and sign-language interpreters available upon request. The venue also features a ramp that allows wheelchair access through the building's front entry, and several bar locations have low countertops to accommodate patrons in wheelchairs. The venue is one of the largest in town, and the stage is raised above the floor level considerably.
3621 Canal, 281-743-8328, email@example.com
According to the venue, there is a ramp in the front, and no other obstacles that would cause a hindrance for people catching a show there.
3700 Main, 713-529-9899
According to the venue, there are no steps to the entryway, show room or bathrooms, and the venue is fully accessible.
CYNTHIA WOODS MITCHELL PAVILION
2005 Lake Robbins Dr., The Woodlands, 281-363-3300, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cynthia Woods also has a page on its Web site dedicated to guests with disabilities. Main areas covered include accessible seating, parking, drop-off, specially adapted restrooms, concessions and services for guests with hearing impairments.
2706 White Oak, 713-862-3838, email@example.com
Fitzgerald's is an older venue; the larger shows take place on the second floor, and there is no elevator. The stairs up to the second floor are wide without any turns. According to the venue, the staff will offer to close customer traffic in order to provide second-floor access if asked. To get into the venue, a fully accessible ramp leads from the parking lot to the first floor, including restrooms. Both stages are slightly raised, and the second floor can get noticeably crowded.
HOUSE OF BLUES
1204 Caroline, 888-402-5837
According to HOB Houston's general manager, Will Hodgson, the venue has elevator access to all levels, as well as a ramp inside the main music hall for access to the bathrooms. All bars are ADA accessible, and accessible seating is located on all levels as well. Typically, the venue is fairly well-lit when bands are not playing.
MCGONIGEL'S MUCKY DUCK
2425 Norfolk, 713-528-5999, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Duck is one level, with no steps getting into the venue or within the venue. According to owner/operator Rusty Andrews, the deck outside does have steps, but there is also outdoor seating with no steps. There is one accessible bathroom with a door that locks for privacy.
1510 Polk, 713-758-7200, email@example.com
Toyota Center's Web site has an extensive listing of accessibility information. Highlights include an accessible drop off and pick up location, accessible parking, a listing of elevators and escalators, assisted listening devices for hearing impaired guests, wheelchair escorts available, wheelchair and companion seating, and braille and large print guides. While it is one of the larger venues in town, because of the size there are many policies in place.
1120 Naylor, 713-222-2679, firstname.lastname@example.org
Walters has stairs to the front entrance, but also has a side door to the front lobby that doesn't require the use of stairs and is directly adjacent to the handicap parking. There is also a ramp towards the back entrance in the lot. According to owner and proprietor Zachary Palmer, seating isn't typically set up but staff will work to provide a barstool or chair for people with difficulties standing. The stage is raised above the ground, and there are typically many spots near the side of the stage to get a good view as well.
813 St. Emanuel, 713-225-5483, email@example.com
There is a large ramp that goes to the Ballroom from the street, and additionally, there are interior ramps that allow patrons to access The Studio & Greenroom rooms from the Ballroom. There are no steps going into the bathrooms, and in the Ballroom, there is a raised viewing area accessible via ramp, as well as railings. The stage is raised above the crowd, and shows can be pretty crowded when capacity is reached.
For the most part, each of these venues — especially the larger, more popular ones — tend to be fairly accessible in terms of the criteria outlined earlier, according to either conversations with staff or Web site descriptions. At the same time, some venues do lack railings on the staircases, while others could be more forthcoming about policies and accommodations that can be made. Additionally, some stages are more elevated than others, and not all of the venues have an easily accessible elevated seating or standing area. Most importantly, most venue management seems to be willing to talk with patrons about accessibility concerns and to make accommodations whenever possible.
Houston, TX 77003
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