Shifting the focus from the individuals who create the best albums to take an inside look at the behind-the-scenes jobs that keep the industry running. Go beyond the music and meet the people who keep your favorite bands in the public eye…
Accessibility is not talked about enough. For Cassie Wilson—president of Half Access, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing accessibility standards into the music scene—it is her loudest conversation. Wilson was born with a case of dwarfism that has proven to be an issue for her bone growth, requiring multiple surgeries and leaving her standing 3 feet 8 inches tall. She can walk but uses a wheelchair to do more strenuous daily activities, like going to shows. She also is one of the most avid music fans and voices in the Portland music scene, having started her own media site, Sick Snaps, and raising awareness of an issue that has passed over many heads—but not hers.
“Half Access is ultimately working to raise awareness about the current lack of accessibility at concert venues, help people who are disabled be better prepared when buying tickets to shows at venues they’re not familiar with, and work toward making actual changes at venues.”
“Half Access was founded to improve accessibility at venues as a community. Awareness and education are the first steps in this process. An easy way to constantly be learning more is to follow disabled folks on social media! This is how I learn more about other disabilities every day and understand inaccessibility issues that I haven’t experienced.”
How did Wilson’s disability affect her show-going experiences, and when did she know it was time for a change?
“For a long time, I would just ‘deal with’ being front row at general-admission concerts in my manual wheelchair, because I felt like, despite how unsafe it was, that was the only way I would have an equal concert experience and be able to see. I didn’t care about my safety because I didn’t recognize that I, and other disabled folks, deserved a space where we could view the show and not have the weight of a crowd pushing against us and people stagediving onto us.”
“When I started asking venues for a safer place to be, the pushback I received and feelings of powerlessness that I was left with made me realize just how inaccessible venues are. Even as a person with a visible disability—meaning I use a mobility aid—I’ve rarely been offered somewhere safe to be upon entering general-admission venues, and I learned that’s because these sections do not exist in most spaces.”
“After attending multiple shows at a venue that wouldn’t even try to accommodate me despite me emailing them a week in advance of concerts, I got really angry. Being someone who wants to work in music, how was I supposed to do that if it wasn’t accessible to me? I quickly realized nothing was going to change magically overnight and decided to turn that frustration into productive energy and started Half Access.”
In 2017, Wilson was the recipient of an Alternative Press Music Award, and Hopeless Records and Sub City granted her $10,000 to take Half Access to the next level. Despite already having a website, Wilson created a team to redesign it and really push the nonprofit into the public eye.
“Our main project right now is building a database of accessibility information on as many venues as possible, then people with disabilities can look up info on venues they’ve never been to and have a better idea of what to expect when going for the first time. We currently have 100 venues in our database from cities across the States, and even some from outside of the U.S. We hope to also create resources for venues that want help in understanding how they can improve their spaces and will use information in the database to work with them and make suggestions on ways to increase accessibility.”
“Our website is being redesigned by Danica Hutchison, and we’re getting closer and closer to launch, so then, it will be very simple for people to view our database and submit information on venues, including their personal experiences at them. We’re also working with booking agents to gather a lot of information in a quicker way.”
“We’re going to have a blog where we will be sharing interviews with disabled folks in the music industry, as well as disabled concert-goers. We’ll be writing articles about what accessibility really looks like, why accessibility should matter to everyone, what accommodation processes are like, and what it means to be an ally to the disabled community, as well as resources and information for venues looking to become more accessible.”
“I hope to see Half Access become a reliable resource for people with disabilities, bands, promoters, and booking agents who are looking for accessible places to attend and play shows.”
Wilson is making more than a small murmur in the scene: she’s an earthquake with a seismic goal of change, awareness, and a safer place for all. Humble, inspiring, and a dear friend, Wilson has opened a forum for human beings to really understand what accessibility means.
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Photos by Andrew Le