When I first moved to Seattle 20 years ago, even though I played music through much of my childhood, I didn't plan on getting involved in the local music scene. But like a lot of musicians in this city, it turned into a formative part of my time here. First as a fan, then as a player. 

I started noticing buskers and listening to them play open mics at Mr. Spot's Chai House and Cafe Racer. Eventually, I showed up at enough shows that artists like Sam Doores and his band the Deslondes would crash at my house when they toured through town, staying up till 2 am and falling asleep with guitars in their hands and songs in their hearts. Music surrounded me every second of every day, and eventually it just sank in. I started writing my own songs and playing open mics at Cafe Racer back when Shana Cleveland, Corespondents, and Ben Todd had weeklies there. Their talent kept me coming back every single week as I tried to make my songs make sense. 

I eventually played venues all over town, big and small—the Tractor, the Moore, and even Sasquatch! Music Festival (RIP). All the while I was housing traveling musicians, doing free PR, and making music videos for my friends. I became a fixture in the scene and on stages all over the city. 

And by the way, I have no legs, which is why I was known for using a skateboard to get around. I used my skateboard because it was cool as hell and because it made getting around so much easier. I didn't have to worry about the ADA for like 10 whole years. I could climb up stairs and fit in spaces not meant for wheelchairs, including stages, backstages, and greenrooms. 

Over the past few years, the arms I’ve been using as legs for my entire life have waved a white flag, resulting in a major reduction in mobility. Recently, I traded in my skateboard for an electric wheelchair. I gotta say, I love it! I was doing a lot of super-crip hero stuff for so long I hadn’t even realized it. (Crip, short for cripple, comes from the 1960s when the disabled community aimed to take back their power and reassign meaning to an old dirty word. I love it, I use it. Now you know!)

One time, I was climbing up on a stage—which is the only way a crip can get on stage other than being carried—and as I crawled up these rotting wood stairs, I got the world's biggest splinter. I was in searing pain but then quickly hopped onto my piano bench, bleeding and hoping no one thought I needed any help. I played a great set that night, but that splinter was stuck in my butt for nine months.

Another time, I played at a festival that had hired me, a disabled artist, but ordered no adapted porta potties. I was forced to GET ON THE GROUND OF A HONEY BUCKET AND THEN CLIMB UP ONTO THE TOILET. I had to—I was staying at the festival for a few days. It’s been years and I still think I’m dirty from that experience. 

People have asked me, “Are you still playing?” And I wonder to myself why the answer is no. I love music and I love playing it. It wasn't until I got asked to play a show recently that the questions flooded my brain: Wait, how am I gonna get on stage? Are any stages accessible to wheelchairs in Seattle?? Oh my god, I stopped playing because there are no places for me to play!

It was a fact I knew deep down, but was drowning out because honestly, it's painful. This is a community I’ve given to for years, and, from what I can tell, there are maybe two stages with ramps in Seattle. The rest are not accessible to people like me—and they seem fine keeping it that way. 

A lot of venues received a stipend from COVID-19 that they used first to pay employees and keep up on costs, and then to renovate their spaces. I don’t think any venue chose to use that money to update their spaces for disabled patrons or artists.

Here’s why:

IT'S NOT THE LAW. Buildings built before 1990 aren't required to be accessible. It’s known as the historical building clause and it means that all the cool establishments didn't think about disabled folks and will never be required to. We didn’t value people with disabilities before the '90s, why start now? 

But just because it's legal doesn't make it right. The accessibility of your venue says more about your values than your adherence to the law. Do you want to lean on a dated value system? Or do you value people with disabilities? 

IT COSTS TOO MUCH. I personally believe that if it was exclusively white dudes who couldn't get into venues or up on our stages, cost wouldn't be an issue. We would just make access happen. In this scene, we tend to value white dudes and we don’t value people with disabilities. The Myth of Scarcity is a myth—if we value things enough, we find abundance and make it happen.

I want to be frank with Seattle's art community. The next time you think access is “too expensive” or “too difficult,” “the building is too old" or upgrades are “impossible,” dig deeper and ask, “Why are we okay with our ableism?” 

We all know sexism is bad and racism is bad. Inclusion is the new golden rule. I’m not deluded and understand that there are still great barriers for non-males and non-whites when accessing the arts, SO WHY ARE WE SO OKAY WITH OUR ABLEISM? Shouldn't we be ashamed of ourselves?

The thing is, I’ve been fighting my whole life for access to stages. I was in school before the ADA was passed, so in order to join in the drama and music classes, I had to crawl up a few flights of stairs. And I did. I was excited to do so! I was playing French horn by 8 years old. But now, recently, I’ve begun to see life like the ADA GENERATION, those who think that access is a birthright. I shouldn't have to fight to see or play a show. Unfortunately, the ADA is a reactionary law—there are no ADA police. The only way to monitor access is for someone to experience the barrier and ask for it to change. 

Disabled artists—the ones who are privileged enough to be able to—have to fight. We have to put on our super-crip-big-girl-pants to play a gig! Right now, artists using wheelchairs have to be scrappy or go home. Suck it up or don't play. Be carried—i.e. lose your dignity—or forget about it. 

But the truth is, it's either my burden or the burden of the community. That’s it. There are no other options. Venues gotta start doing better for their disabled patrons and for disabled artists and accept the community burden. And when they do, they will stop placing that burden on disabled artists and marginalizing us further into obscurity. 

See Mindie Lind perform her song "My View from the Floor" at Fremont Abbey here. Her music is also available on Bandcamp.