Weekly Poll – COVID-19: Returning to Live Events (Week Beginning 7 September 2020)

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue.  For the week beginning 7 September 2020, we asked a question about returning to live events, a topic suggested by the Birds of Paradise Theatre Company.


Question 1: Do you have any concerns about attending live events (theatre / comedy / music concerts) with the current measures that are in place? 

  • YES – 61% (44 respondents)
  • NO – 39% (28 respondents)

Question 2: Do you feel confident that you will be able to return to your ‘normal’ level of live event activity in the next year? 

  • YES – 36% (26 respondents)
  • NO – 64% (46 respondents)


Respondents identified the following main themes and key concerns.  We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Safety Measures

Disabled people recognised that a number of safety and hygiene measures must be implemented at live events, in line with ongoing government guidelines, to help limit the spread of COVID-19. Responses were mixed as to whether such measures would encourage or deter disabled people from attending live events.

“Live events like any gathering of people whether it be for a concert, in a pub, in a queue for a shop, on a bus, etc. all clearly require maintenance of essential physical distancing, use of face coverings, personal responsibility, consideration and respect. All essential weapons in keeping this virus in abeyance whilst society functions to the best of its ability with such restrictions.”

It is important that strict hygiene measures are in place, including access to cleaning stations offering sanitising gels and wipes. One respondent, who is a wheelchair user, highlighted the need for automatic doors, to avoid touching handles.

“More mechanisms in place so I don’t have to touch door handles and suchlike. Since I self-propel my wheelchair, it does not really matter whether I wear gloves or not, there is no way to “avoid touching things while walking”, as I use my hands to move around. I can push doors open by other means (leg, wheelchair frame, etc); but a pull door is an infection risk, and it makes me anxious.”

Physical Distancing

Respondents highlighted that maintaining physical distancing in venues could be challenging, particularly in smaller venues or older buildings where space in the entrance halls, stairways, corridors, and vestibules can be limited. Some respondents would be deterred from attending live events if seating is spaced out and they are unable to sit next to family and friends.

“As an avid theatre goer, I’m concerned by one-way systems. One-way systems in shops is necessary to maintain distance, however in theatres and especially old theatres, stairs and narrow corridors are unavoidable, hence I won’t be attending the theatre for some time to come.”

“It has been mentioned that every seat would be spaced out but I, like many would want to enjoy the experience with family or friends.”

“If people all entered at once and exit at once, if it is not managed well it could be uncomfortable.”

Face Coverings

Disabled people raised concerns about wearing face coverings during events. It is important for venues to recognise that not everyone can wear face coverings and people are exempt if:

  • They have a disability or health condition that means they cannot put a covering on
  • A covering will cause them severe distress or anxiety
  • They need to communicate with someone who relies on lip reading
  • They have a reasonable need to eat, drink or take medicine

To raise awareness of exemptions, we produced a face covering exemption poster and card, which are available to download on our website: www.disabilityequality.scot/face-covering

“The way things are just now nothing would make me attend a live event, especially if I had to wear a covering throughout the performance.”

“My big concern is wearing a face covering, which will make it harder for me to enjoy myself”

“If I go to an event, I will feel extremely uncomfortable for having to wear a face covering indoors.”

Public Transport

Many disabled people rely on different modes of public transport to travel to live events.  Some respondents are reluctant to use public transport with the current restrictions that are in place. Altered timetables may prevent some people from attending live events if there are no services available when the event is taking place.

“I have concerns on how I can travel to venues. I rely on public transport and I’m not keen on getting on a train at the moment.”

“I’ve had 8 performance events cancelled between gigs and concerts and I am terrified about getting on a bus never mind going to a concert.”

“Cannot attend due to being too disabled to drive and due to local council saying it has had to cut down on bus subsidies so evening buses will not be restored. Taxis are unaffordable.”


Disabled people, particularly those who are in higher risk categories and have been shielding are concerned about returning to live events. Some respondents state that this position would not change until a vaccine has been developed.

“Unfortunately, until we have a vaccine, I won’t feel comfortable attending live events anytime soon.”

“I would not go to live events until the vaccine is in place and unfortunately there are no guarantees that it will be found in the next year.”

“I am in the higher risk category and was shielding. Sadly, I still don’t feel confident to go back to these kind of events.”

Supporting the Arts Sector

Despite the concerns raised, respondents recognised the importance of supporting the arts sector. Some disabled people had attended the cinema and noted that strict measures were in place, many of which could be replicated at live events.

“Cinemas have proven this can be done safely. Live events may not look the same as they did, but we must adapt to current circumstances.”

“I think that it will really affect people’s mental health not to be able to sing and make music together. I think the same applies to not being able to go to concerts, theatre etc. because this is a chance for people to meet and enjoy the expressive arts. We need the expressive arts to be part of our lives e.g. for developing empathy through stories and by understanding ourselves and our own experience better.”

One respondent had enjoyed the ability to join events virtually during lockdown and suggests that this could be an alternative way to continue supporting the industry.

“The Lammermuir Festival is entirely online this year. I really enjoyed watching the National Theatre Live productions online during lockdown especially as it is so expensive to go to the theatre. I think arts organisations should be looking at online alternatives rather than expecting all people to return to indoor venues while restrictions are still in place”


There were mixed responses from disabled people on the levels of confidence in returning to live events. It was recognised that a number of safety and hygiene measures, such as wearing face coverings and maintaining physical distancing would be required to help reduce the spread of the virus; however, these measures would also deter some disabled people from attending. In some cases, disabled people in higher risk categories would not feel comfortable to attend live events until a safe vaccine is developed. Concerns were also raised about ongoing restrictions on public transport, which could act as a further deterrent for disabled people. Integration of online events was identified as a solution to help support the arts sector during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Disability Equality Scotland, September 2020