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BeyHive Rises In Formation, Helps Disabled Fan See Beyoncé Concert
Jon Hetherington had missed Seattle show because airline couldn’t accommodate his wheelchair.
Jon Hetherington from Oregon has been a fan of Beyoncé since her Destiny’s Child years and was looking forward to finally seeing her in concert at her Renaissance World Tour in Seattle. However, on his Instagram a couple weeks ago, he’d expressed concerns after a difficult experience when he’d seen Janelle Monáe. Hetherington has cerebral palsy and uses an electric wheelchair. The accessible transportation service he’d used apparently claimed 9:30 p.m. was just too late to take him home and he was almost stranded for the night.
“I’m tired of not having the access most people in my life do,” Hetherington posted on his liberatedbygaga account. “I’m tired of having to fit ableist standards because society wasn’t built to include people like me.”
“Beyoncé will be different,” a fellow fan responded. “You have my number. I'll do everything I can to help you.”
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Hetherington kept his plans to see Queen B, but unfortunately, on the day of the show last week, when he attempted to board an Alaska Airlines flight from Eugene, Oregon, to Seattle, he was told that the aircraft couldn’t accommodate his electric chair.
There are no individual villains here but rather an inconsiderate system. Hetherington said the gate staff attempted to get his chair on board but the wheelchair was four inches too tall to fit into the narrow aircraft.
According to The New York Times, “the crew tried to find Hetherington, 34, another flight on a plane that could accommodate his wheelchair; an Airbus could do it, he was told, but the only one available would get him there 12 hours too late.” This wasn’t a Ms. Lauryn Hill concert, where he’d just have to wait another four hours before she finally got on stage. Beyoncé is usually on time.
The flight time from Eugene to Seattle is about an hour. Before anyone starts suggesting he should’ve taken Amtrak, remember this ain’t Europe. Travel time on the train is at best six hours and that’s just the 5:30 a.m. butt crack of dawn train. There’s an 8:30 a.m. with a connecting
donkey bus that is more than seven hours. That’s provided the train isn’t significantly delayed and Amtrak makes Ms. Lauryn Hill seem prompt. The other departures would never get Hetherington there in time unless he traveled a day earlier, incurring more travel costs.
My son has cerebral palsy, but he can fly without mobility aids. And he enjoys scooting to his seat using the arm rests — so long as an aggressive passenger doesn’t knock him down trying to get past him, which has almost happened more than once. We’ve never faced a situation where he couldn’t fly because the airline was unable to accommodate him, but we know that’s a luxury many disabled people don’t enjoy.
“This is a systemic issue, this is ableism, this is what I’ve dealt with my whole life,” Hetherington told the Times. “I was demoralized by the whole thing.”
But when a distraught Hetherington shared the sad news on Instagram, the famed BeyHive swarmed into action.
Fans tagged Beyoncé and her management company, Parkwood Entertainment, in the video’s comments section. Somewhat amazingly, her representatives saw this and reached out to Hetherington, providing him a ticket to Thursday’s show in Arlington, Texas. The Times reports that “in addition to the concert, they also arranged for his transportation, including the flight. A representative for Beyoncé did not immediately return a request for comment.”
This time, Hetherington made the show in style.
“We partied, we sang, we danced… HARD,” he posted on Instagram. “BeyHive, you made this happen. You pushed and tagged like the internet has never seen. Tonight for the first time ever, I had a seat on the floor of a concert.”
Hetherington even got to meet Beyoncé herself but he won’t reveal her exchange. (Meanwhile, I’ll tell everyone who buys me a drink about meeting Liza Minnelli.) He also met the Queen B Mother, Tina Knowles, who looks amazing. What’s going on in that family?
“There is much that I will say in the coming days about what tonight means to me,” he wrote. “There are some things I’ll keep for myself. Truly an honor to meet you, @mstinaknowles! Thank you for all that you’ve done and given the world. We’re so grateful.”
When you live with a disability, it can seem as if the world was designed as though you don’t exist or perhaps even shouldn’t. You can never count on accessibility and there’s always the chance that, no matter how much you prepare, you’ll be denied a seemingly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The BeyHive and the Queen herself showed how the world can be less cruel when we put our minds to it. We could use a lot more of this, but every single act helps.
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