Legally blind Stevie Wonder fan seeks accessible seat for Toronto show
Without a front-row seat, Tracy Whitfield says she won't be able to see what she wants – the singer
A legally blind Toronto resident has been trying for days to get a seat for an upcoming Stevie Wonder show that will allow her to see her favourite singer.
But so far, Tracy Whitfield has found that her requests for a seat that will accommodate her needs at the November concert have gone unheeded.
Whitfield has been legally blind for nearly all of her adult life, after suddenly losing much of her sight when she was 19 years old.
That change was very hard for Whitfield to cope with, a difficult time she recalls as a depressing period in which she even had thoughts of suicide.
"I would say one of the things that got me through was actually listening to Stevie Wonder," said Whitfield, who is now 40. "He was this sort of, noteworthy, inspirational blind musician. So for me as a woman without sight at the age…he was inspiring."
She's had the fortune to attend shows by Wonder twice in the past — once in Montreal and once in Toronto. But Whitfield has never been able to get the kind of accessible seating that will allow her to actually see the singer perform.
Thus for her to fully enjoy the upcoming Wonder show, Whitfield said she'll need to be sitting in the front row, so that she'll be able to watch him on stage.
"I can't read small font, for instance, so I use a large monitor at work, I read electronic books and have to use really large fonts and formats to read those things," Whitfield told CBC News in an interview. "Seeing people is also challenging, so if I’m too far away from anything, I can't see it."
Whitfield began calling Ticketmaster last Tuesday about securing an accessible seat to meet her needs at the November show. She was initially told that the venue has only accessibility seats for mobility.
"The irony of this … is that this is a Stevie Wonder concert, so this is an individual who is blind and there is no policy at this concert to provide accessibility for individuals with sight impairments," she said.
Seats in the sixth row were available, but she says that wouldn't be any use for her.
"Front row seats for me aren’t a luxury like they may be for some people, they're a necessity," she said.
"That's how we ensure I can actually see something and I'm not prepared to pay $150 a ticket for seats in the sixth row, which for me is the equivalent of sitting in like, the 50th row."
Whitfield declined those seats, but continued to contact the people involved with the concert.
On Monday, she was offered seats in the 21st row.
Ticketmaster's website indicates that the company sells tickets "on behalf of promoters, teams, artists and venues," but it doesn’t determine the availability of those seats, nor their accessibility.
After CBC News inquired about Whitfield’s situation, a Ticketmaster representative emailed Whitfield on Monday afternoon to apologize and to stress that the handling of her inquiry was "not typical" for the company.
"We've sent a request for clarification to the promoter for Stevie Wonder," the email said.
The venue in this case is Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment's Air Canada Centre, which told CBC it does accommodate the visually impaired.
"With each event, our fan services team works to ensure a great experience for every fan that comes into our building. When fans contact us with an accessibility inquiry, we work with our event partners, in this case Live Nation, to address each need," said Dave Haggith, a spokesperson for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
Live Nation, the concert promoter, has told CBC News that there are a limited number of front-row seats, but the company is "still working" on the situation with the venue.
Click on the video at the top of this story to see a full report from the CBC's Natalie Kalata.