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Ask label owner Sean Gray what he looks for in a band, and the answer you’ll get is simple.
“I always tell people that I want to put out bands that I’d want in my record collection,” says Gray (above), the brains behind both the local Accidental Guest Recordings and Fan Death Records. Whatever the band’s sound, whatever its look, whatever its chances of selling, it all takes a backseat to one prevailing idea: “I look for bands that just want to put out records.”
As simple as that sentiment may sound, its origins prove a bit more complicated. When Gray was still a toddler, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. For nearly all of his life, he’s relied on a walker to get around. Though Gray’s quick to say he counts himself lucky, his disability often kept him from venues that proved inaccessible while he was growing up. “I didn’t have the privilege to go see a lot of these bands live, so I had to really listen to these records and be like ‘That’s as good as it’s going to get,’ ” he says. “These bands would roll into town, and I couldn’t see them because I just couldn’t physically go.”
Now 32 years old, Gray has more live-music experience under his belt. By his count, he’s been attending shows in D.C. for the better part of two decades. And while he says many venues haven’t gotten much better at offering access to patrons with mobility disabilities, Gray himself has gotten much savvier about the places he goes. Now he’s putting that savvy on the Web.
Late last week, Gray launched Is This Venue Accessible?, a Tumblr whose content is as straightforward as its title. One by one, Gray has paired each of a series of D.C. music venues with information about its accessibility—-and its frustrations for the mobility-impaired. Is the bathroom up a flight of stairs? Is there no elevator to the second-floor stage? Is the railing next to the merch table a wobbly death trap? In black and white, stripped of frills, Gray’s site will tell you so.
This August, for WAMU’s Bandwidth blog, Gray spoke with reporter Tori Kerr, who noted the inaccessibility of many of D.C.’s off-the-beaten path DIY spaces, like house venues and dive bars. Though many of these spaces are thriving today, small or impromptu venues frequently fail to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
But even “legitimate” venues pose problems, as ITVA makes evident. For instance, it may be possible to enter a certain venue’s bathroom in a wheelchair, but if a short flight of stairs rests in the way—-as Gray observes of the Velvet Lounge—-that bathroom’s wide door won’t do a bladder much good. Complexities like these serve as a centerpiece of the site.
“Disability isn’t just a logo,” Gray says. “It’s not just a dude in a wheelchair. It’s more complicated than that.”
Of course, he doesn’t foresee immediate change from either big-name clubs or DIY spaces (as Gray notes, “I don’t expect some punks to go and change their basement”). Instead, his focus is on information: helping fans prepare for the challenges that a given venue has in store, and reminding owners and musicians that little things can make a big difference for some patrons.
As yet, the site still remains in its infancy. If it’s to provide comprehensive information—-and if it’s to expand beyond the bounds of D.C., as Gray hopes it will one day—-he’ll have to rely on reader contributions (you can contact him here).
“I’m sure I’m not an anomaly here. I know I’m not,” Gray says. “Information is power, right?”
Photo courtesy of Sean Gray