'I didn't get to see anything': Wheelchair-bound woman describes negative experience at Armory

Officials say general admission seating is a 'challenge' for accessibility accommodations

Sloane Martin
November 07, 2019 - 5:01 pm

A young Minnesota woman is speaking out about a negative experience she had at the Minneapolis Armory due to her to wheelchair.

Erin Thomson, whose father Steve Thomson you hear here on News Talk 830 WCCO on weekends, has been paralyzed from the chest down for 10 years. The recent University of Arizona graduate bought tickets to see one of Lizzo's two October shows back in April. Lizzo's music career started and took off in Minneapolis.

Thomson always has some apprehension at each venue she goes to and this was her first time at the Armory. She prefers venues that are easy to navigate, keep her separated from the crowd so her powerchair isn't accidentally kicked into gear, and with a raised platform so she can see.

"I feel like most people don't understand that (Americans with Disabilities Act) accommodations are the bare minimum when it comes to accommodations and it doesn't mean that a venue is actually following them," she told News Talk 830 WCCO. 

Thomson describes a cumbersome process and employees not well-equipped on the Armory's guidelines. She was separated from her sister through security, was told an elevator was broken and had to go to the other side of the building for another one, found no signs or information for people needing accommodations once she got to the second floor, and was passed around by multiple employees without clear answers on how to find her seat.

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Back when Thomson bought the tickets, she called ahead to make sure of any guidelines she would need to know ahead of time. Her mom called again closer to the show, when she was told she would need to be added to an "ADA list." 

When they were met with some confusion at the box office, "That was kind of my first cue of, this doesn't seem like this is going to go well."

The Armory's website clearly states it is ADA compliant and has a section dedicated to accessibility. It says it is not "currently" able to offer fixed seating for standing room only areas, but there are a "number" of handicap and ADA areas in the venue with wheelchair access. The historic Armory, which was remodeled leading up to Super Bowl LII in 2018, does not sell a specific ADA ticket. 

"Our Armory staff is ADA trained," Armory publicist Robb Leer said. "Our challenge is that for shows like this, it's general admission seating and that's a challenge. Our goal is always to accommodate everyone and make sure it's a premiere experience. It sounds like for this particular concert-goer it was not. It fell short of our expectations and theirs and we apologize. That's not who we are."

Eventually Thomson found her seat.

"I don't know why I have to sit all the way back here," she thought at the time. "Here, I bought the same tickets as everyone else for the same price and everything and I'm sitting at the farthest point away from the stage. I also want to say that we got there early. We got there maybe 20-30 minutes before the first (act) got on the stage."

Lizzo fans helped Thomson and her sister find an spot closer, but people in the premium seats blocked her view once her show started, leaving her disappointed.

"All of this excitement building up, several months of waiting to see Lizzo, knowing about Lizzo being in GRRRL PRTY years ago," she said. "You know, being this true fan and finally going to the show, here I was finally seeing her at the Armory and I didn't get to see anything."

Thomson loves Lizzo's message of self love. She only saw her one flute solo when she was elevated at a podium.

"Here she is talking about being back in the Cities and about how happy she is being back in the Cities and seeing everyone, and I just kind of started tearing up because I was like, here I am, I worked this hard to finally get to this spot, all of these people were so inclusive to help me see the stage...to be completely obscured."

Thomson says she's had good experiences locally where getting inside is streamlined and she's able to see. She complimented Target Field in particular for its organized instructions for people with disabilities, ease of access and the fact that she sees employees with disabilities.

"When people with disabilities actually work at these places, they're able to educate everyone there about how important it is to be truly inclusive, that inclusivity also means being accommodating to people with disabilities," she said.

Thomson wants to come back to the Armory for the Call of Duty League: Launch Weekend in late January because she loves eSports and wants to see them live. She's hoping for a better experience. Leer says the Armory is extending two free tickets to her for the next show she wants to go to.

"Being accessible to people with disabilities, they think of money and how expensive things can be, but something as simple as educating your staff doesn't cost money."

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