Going to a Concert Disabled: Part 2, Fighting for Access

The purple ocean of glowing light sticks at SoFi Stadium, with lights spelling out BTS and ARMY.

As promised, this is Part 2 of my LA concert series, which is going to focus on the venue itself and the ways in which SoFi Stadium completely disregarded the safety and well-being of BTS and ARMY — especially those with disabilities. You can read Part 1 about Ticketmaster here:

CW: ableism, crowds, crowd crushing references

Before the day of the concert, SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Parks (the managing body of the stadium) had made it abundantly clear they had little regard for disabled patrons. They had an extensive FAQ about accessibility up on their website until a few weeks before the concert, when they took it down and replaced it with a separate website. In both places, the language was confusing and unhelpful. For example, the language about ADA seating was vague, at best, and made it very unclear who was actually eligible for those seats.

As part of my labor under the disabled ARMY account on Twitter, I fielded a lot of questions from people trying to determine if they were eligible for ADA seating. I referred back to the ADA law in most cases, because that was at least slightly more clear than the stadium’s accessibility language. (For example, they only cited person’s with mobility difficulties specifically on the stadium website and pdf, which is a very narrow representation of those actually eligible.)

Emails, messages, and phone calls to the stadium and Hollywood Parks went generally unanswered. A few people did manage to get a person on the other end, but even then the information was often inaccurate. For example, people received emails informing them they would not be allowed to take their insulin for their diabetes into the stadium and would have to put it in a locker. This is a horrifying (and illegal) policy, if it’s true. I have no idea how they actually handled medication onsite. At least one ARMY made the decision to not go to the concert because they received this email about the medication policy.

There were a lot of questions about the venue that the stadium did not answer beforehand, so I had planned on arriving at the venue early on Day 1 in order to investigate what I could. The rest of this essay will be a recounting of my personal experiences. I did not purchase ADA seating, as I didn’t strictly need it and wanted to make sure it went to others that needed it more. There have been dozens of others that have told their stories on Twitter (and even more that reached out to me afterward).

Day 1.

I attended with my mother and we parked quite near the stadium. When I arrived, I somehow managed to lose my driver’s license inside my rental car — this is only important to 1) express that brain fog is a whole thing and definitely was being pretty fierce that day and 2) I had planned to get to SoFi early, but ended up losing an hour tearing the rental car apart trying to find my license. (We never found it and I had to actually buy a replacement!)

By the time we got to the outside of the venue, it was very crowded. The thing that first alarmed me was there was very little in terms of signage. I took pictures of where we parked the car, because there weren’t even great signs to show what part of the lot the car was in.

Once outside the stadium, I looked for security or someone in charge to ask if it was possible to get into the stadium with a photo of ID. There were crowds everywhere. It was truly difficult to get through to anywhere. Finally, we stood in a little line to talk to some random security guy. The woman in front of us had a walker. She was asking him where the ADA lines to get into the stadium were.

Random Security Guy: “We don’t have any of those.”

Me: “Excuse me? That’s not true. You should have an ADA line at every single entrance, per your website.”

Random Security Guy looks like he could not care less. I end up trying to download the SoFi Stadium app on my phone for the woman so we access the map. I was trying to explain to her that I had just arrived and didn’t know the layout of the venue yet, but that I knew there were ADA entrances at every gate. At least, there should have been given that that’s what they told us they would provide.

While the app was slowly downloading on the absolutely garbage reception that was outside the venue, the woman disappeared into the crowd. My mom had waited and asked Random Security Guy about the identity photo issue. He said it should be fine, but considering I had just seen him flat out lie to the woman in front of us, I had zero trust in his answer.

We decided to make our way through the crowds to get to our entrance. Turns out the mass of crowds were the “lines” to get into the venue. The venue, in their clearly infinite wisdom, had decided to go with zero crowd control as their strategy for getting 50,000 people into the concert.

While we were navigating our way to our gate, I stopped to take this sunset picture. This was a part of our walk where it had opened up a bit (between entrances) and so the crowd wasn’t as intense here.

At our gate, there were no signs other than the large number above the entrance. And we couldn’t get anywhere near it. I took the following picture.

Entry gate 8 on Day 1, two hours before concert start time.

All the while we were navigating our way around the venue, I was still getting messages on Twitter with questions about accessible entrances and ADA issues. I was trying to keep a lookout for any of the things SoFi stadium had promised we would get in terms of accommodations.

As we all waited, we made acquaintances with the ARMY around us. There were people of all ages including a family with younger children in front of us. As we kept getting pushed closer and closer together from the crowd behind us, we all did our best to stay calm. One older woman started shouting periodically, “Stop pushing, there are children here!”

My mom and I were holding hands at this point in order to not be separated. We had already figured out the internet and cellphone reception was spotty at best. The only messages I was able to send were via Twitter. My mom doesn’t have Twitter. I could not lose her in the crowd.

Anytime an opening in the crowd appeared, people pushed in to fill it. Every time this push happened, we got closer together. It was as if that little hole left by someone was filled again by two people. I knew it wasn’t sustainable. I even started thinking about ways to leave. But we couldn’t move.

We kept exchanging angry glances with each other, both communicating the same thing to one another: 1) what happened to keeping us safe from covid, and 2) a sudden, clear understanding of how the tragedy of Astroworld, less than a month ago, had happened.

We stood there for well over an hour. The time for the gates to open (with our measly 6 metal detectors you can see in the picture above) had long passed. In fact, people were starting to worry we would still be outside the gates when the concert started. We started telling the people around us to not worry. BTS wouldn’t start without us. Anything to keep people calm.

While this was happening, I was still trying to get word out on Twitter. I was having difficulty at this point with my own sensory overload and anxiety, so I knew it was probably bad for a lot of other people as well.

At some point, I heard shouts from closer to the gate that someone had fainted. There was also a point where an ambulance tried to get through our crowd and we all had to squash together to avoid being run over. But rather than getting our space back after, more crowd pushed in from behind us.

At 7:07pm, exactly 23 minutes before the concert was set to begin, a security guard came through the crowd and stood about 4 or 5 people in front of me.

He shouted to us, “We’ll let you through. We’re not checking ANYTHING. As long as you don’t push.”

At that moment, I was filled with dread and fear. I looked back at my mom and gave her hand a squeeze. And I tweeted. Because I knew if things went bad in the next moments, I wanted a record of this.

As we were swept along, the crowd definitely pushed. I think the most miraculous thing of the next few minutes was the fact that I never lost my mom’s hand. There were points where there were multiple people in between us, our arms outstretched over the crowd, connected. It was as if we were in two different currents of people, surging forward. It was as if everyone was anxious, as the crowd turned into almost what felt like a rip tide or a living organism — one which we had no control over and could only go with the ebb and flow of it, but not in a soothing day at the beach sort of way. I’m sure everyone was as worried and panicked as I felt, as I grasped my mom’s hand, feeling the pull of her being jostled in another current of people.

I think the fact that we were ARMY and we had been doing everything we could to keep people calm is the reason things didn’t end differently. SoFi Stadium is LUCKY they were dealing with ARMY.

As we approached the metal detectors, there were some 6 feet of stanchions that create “lines” up to the entrances. My mom was being pushed down one lane, while I was being pushed in the middle of two lanes, right into an overflowing garbage can. I was leaning over this overflowing garbage can desperately trying not to end up in it, still connected to my mom’s hand. Another security guard stood directly in front of me, just looking at me. I started screaming, “Don’t push me!” over and over in an attempt to not get crushed into a garbage can, while the security guard watched.

I think what happened next was my mom went down one lane and I, the lane next to her. We were pushed through the beeping metal detectors and waved on through by the security on the other side. I will never forget the sound of those beeping metal detectors as we were all just pushed through into the stadium.

We got through and all we could think was to try to get to our seats as quickly as possible so we could sit down, catch our breaths. I tweeted that I was safe, because I knew I had probably freaked people out with my previous tweet. It was 5 minutes between the two tweets. 7:12pm and we were trying to navigate the inside of the stadium to find our seats.

We managed to sit down in our seats just as the pre-show music videos were starting up. The show was amazing, which I’ve written some about already. Of course, I would be lying if I said that some of my first day at the venue wasn’t shaded by the horrifying experience I had trying to get inside. And I put that squarely on SoFi Stadium and its terrible mismanagement.

Day 2.

I was extremely anxious about going again on Day 2. I was meeting with academic friends and we decided to go extremely early. Overall, things were a little better.

Partly, the stadium set up tents to check people’s covid vaccinations before entering. This helped streamline the entrance through security. They also added more metal detectors. (I’m not sure why they were surprised by how many of us there were, they literally had our headcount with ticket sales.)

We stood for many hours in lines. The line situation at the gate wasn’t better, but we were in actual lines. I think ARMY in general was more organized and ready for SoFi’s incompetence on the second day.

There were actual ADA lines visible on day 2 as well. That was a nice change.

Signage was still an issue and we still ended up in a crowd when they let us inside the stadium early, but didn’t allow us to go to our seats until the soundcheck finished. So we were inside the venue, but not inside the stadium. No clear directions, no signs to tell us what was happening.

Just like the day before, there was no infrastructure for getting out of the parking lot after the concert ended. We waited well over an hour both nights just to leave. We watched whole live streams from BTS members while waiting to leave.

I cannot express how extremely dangerous SoFi Stadium made our experience. Despite that, concert-goers remained in good spirits. I saw everyone wearing a mask and doing their best to keep everyone around them calm.

I am so glad, despite the close quarters for hours with others, that we did not have any big covid outbreaks after the concert. I am sure we, ARMY and BTS, would have been blamed if that had happened. Never mind, SoFi’s complete lack of regard for concert-goers.

Later, I did articulate some of the ways in which SoFi made it so dangerous for all of us on Day 1 by letting everyone in without checking them:

SoFi Stadium has a singular responsibility: get an audience into their venue and provide a place for people to put on a show. From what I saw, they were not prepared and completely failed in their job. They put my life, my mother’s life, my fellow ARMY’s lives, BTS’s crew’s lives, and BTS’s lives in jeopardy. If you think I’m being dramatic, kindly go find all the plenty of examples of places where things did go wrong. ARMY did their best to make up for SoFi Stadium’s shortcomings and for that I am extremely grateful.

There’s something insidious about a venue that is negligent, at best, and then can conveniently use the concert-goers as scapegoats for if/when things go wrong. Systemically, ARMY have been dismissed and disregarded, actively made to seem like immature, hysterical, mindless robots (somehow all at once?), and ignored by the mainstream. No one would think twice if they were blamed for causing a crowd surge or a covid outbreak or any other horrible things that could have gone wrong that night. But instead, ARMY saved the day by being the awesome community they are — with SoFi Stadium not having to take any of the responsibility because nothing catastrophic actually happened.

I asked my mom to read through the draft of this essay before I hit ‘publish’ to make sure I remembered things correctly and characterized things as she remembered. I asked about my language about SoFi Stadium and she said I was maybe not “hard enough” in my anger against the venue.

So I asked, “you have suggestions where I could go stronger?”

Her response, “No, I just think there isn’t anything to express how awful it was.”

It’s taken me a month to begin to process the trauma I experienced outside the stadium. The fact that most people outside my safe spaces of the ARMY community are ready to dismiss these experiences is disheartening. Media have largely ignored us. Most people assume that I went to a BTS concert, so what else should I expect?

I expect a venue that I have paid money to do its job and get me safely inside the venue. I expect that the promised accommodations will be fulfilled. I expect that when I am faced with a crisis that human decency would prevail.

And human decency did prevail. In ARMY. I saw so many acts of care and kindness. We made friends with strangers and we were reminded that we are a community. A community that takes care of one another — online and offline.

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