When tickets for Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour went on sale late in 2022, Sara Abell immediately started looking at the nearest concert for her daughter. Leah, 26, has quadriplegia cerebral palsy, is confined to a wheelchair, has a learning disability, and also suffers from short bowel syndrome. In light of her health challenges, finding concert tickets that meet Leah’s needs can be difficult.
Sara knew, however, that this concert would be one of the most important moments in Leah’s life. Through all her health struggles, Swift’s music always has helped Leah. Even in surgeries, the doctors and nurses know the Owensboro, Kentucky, resident requires Swift music by her side.
“She adores Taylor Swift, and listening to her music is a comfort for her,” Sara says.
It’s well known that, when Eras tickets went on sale in November, record-setting demand caused ticket agencies’ websites and apps to crash and digital wait lines to exceed hours, even for fans exercising presale options. In the meantime, scalpers and bots could – and did – swoop in, driving up ticket scarcity and prices.
After an extensive search, Sara found two tickets for resale that would accommodate Leah’s wheelchair at a summer 2023 concert at Cincinnati, Ohio’s Paycor Stadium. However, it would cost her $8,600, a shock that Sara impulsively posted about on Facebook. She was torn between the escalated ticket price and how much attending the concert would mean for her daughter.
Friends and followers reading Sara’s post expressed a desire to help finance the trip, so she set up a GoFundMe. Within 24 hours, around 200 people raised enough money to cover the Swift tickets.
“That is incredible. It shows you the power of social media and the good in people,” Sara says.
The community continued to turn out for Leah. Blitz, an Owensboro boutique, donated pink sequin dresses for her to wear. Foxy Roxy polished Leah’s nails to a multi-colored finish and provided a number of pieces of jewelry to match the Eras tour theme.
It also has become a trend for Swifties to exchange friendship bracelets with one another at concerts, so Leah’s friends made her lots of bracelets to trade. During the family’s hotel stay before the concert, Leah traded bracelets with other Swift fans.
“Everyone was very kind and welcoming. They made her feel included. It made it that much more special,” Sara says.
When Swifties flooded to Cincinnati on July 1 for the pop star’s show, Sara and Leah were there. Leah beamed “from the moment we got to Cincinnati to the moment we left,” Sara says. “She loved every second of it.”
When Swift began performing “All Too Well, “it was like Leah felt like Taylor was singing directly to her and understood her and all of her struggles,” Sara adds. “She was singing so hard and felt it deep within her.”
Still, Sara was disheartened to notice non-wheelchair users sitting in the disabled-accessible seating. She counted only five wheelchairs at the show, and she observed no screening or authorization when fans purchased handicapped seating. Even though ticket purchasing could have been time-consuming for Sara in the past — she describes it as an interview-like process — it guaranteed Leah and others like her appropriate seating. Upon investigation, Sara found that it is at a venue’s discretion how it handles accessible seating, so theoretically, anyone could purchase those seats. In fact, Sara spoke with one person sitting nearby and learned they bought their accessible seat for around $300 — one-fourteenth the price of Leah’s ticket purchased via resale.
“The price gouging of tickets has become outrageous and extremely competitive,” Sara says.
Sara calls the concert a wonderful experience for Leah, but it inspired her to continue advocating for her daughter and others with similar accessibility issues. She has been writing letters to Congress, the U.S. Department of Justice, Ticketmaster, and anyone else who will listen. The issue took on more regional relevance when, in August, Swift announced additional U.S. tour dates in 2024 that include three nights of shows at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium.
In the future, Sara hopes to see changes to the methods for purchasing ADA tickets, prevention of price gouging, and preservation of those accessible seats.
“Leah won’t get married, she won’t go to college, she won’t have so many different opportunities, but this is the one thing she has loved for years,” Sara said in her GoFundMe post. “This was more than just a concert to Leah. … It was truly a night she will never forget.”
Jodi Keen contributed to this story.