People with disabilities excluded from UK nightclubs

We all have pastimes we like to do to have fun and relax with friends. Often, these pastimes include engagement with our town or city in a way that is enjoyable and often essential to feeling like we ‘belong’ in our communities. Spending time with friends or family doing activities that are commonplace – such as going to a movie, visiting a park, or a museum or library – is an essential part of life for most of us. For people with disabilities, who often already experience feelings of exclusion as a result of the ableist society we live in, having access to mainstream activities is key.

One such recreational activity is partaking in local nightlife culture – something especially popular among young people. Unfortunately, in the United Kingdom, despite recent changes to the law, this scene sometimes deliberately excludes people with disabilities. The BBC spoke with Katouche Goll, a young singer who has a physical disability about her experiences performing at nightclubs. Also interviewed was Sam Renke, a thirty-year old who loves the nightlife in London. Renke is often barred from clubs due to having osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone condition. Renke told the BBC how bouncers prevent her from entering clubs, saying, “I’ve been told I’m a fire risk a number of times, or they don’t have disabled toilets…There have even been places where they do have a disabled toilet, but they use it as a storage room.”

This is actually illegal under UK law – the Equality Act of 2010, which serves to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities, includes nightclubs.

According to the legal director of the Business Disability Forum Bela Gor, “Nightclubs have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled customers. They don’t have to change the fundamental nature of their business, for example turn the lights up, or turn the music down. But they do have to ensure that disabled people can get in and have a good time in the same way as non-disabled customers.”

People with disabilities are often stigmatized by society as people without sexuality – yet as many people with disabilities know, they are just as likely as able-bodied people to be interested in having healthy relationships and a healthy sex life. Sexuality is often associated with nightlife, and the idea that people with disabilities are disconnected from sexuality may be why many nightclubs do not recognize the right people with disabilities have to access their spaces, and why it can be so damaging to exclude them.

Emily Pate is a third-year student at Seattle University interested in Strategic Communications, learning Spanish, and working with non-profits. Her work for Rooted In Rights is focused on discussing current events in the community of people with disabilities. Her experience previous to Rooted In Rights includes writing broadcasts for KBOO radio in Portland, OR, and managing a neighborhood blog in the Seattle community. In addition to work, Emily enjoys drawing, spending time with her friends and family, and backpacking.