Accommodating Patrons with Disabilities:
A Survey of Ticket and Accommodation Policies for Performance Venues,
Theaters and Sports Arenas
National Center on Accessibility
by Jennifer K. Skulski, Ray Bloomer
and Jeffrey Chait
Note: Reports available from NCA: 20 page Executive Summary,
$15. Full report with responses to open-ended questions, $20.
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Creating accessible ticket and accommodation policies inclusive
of patrons with disabilities has long been a challenge for operators
of performance venues, theaters and sports arenas. Since the passage
of both Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans
with Disabilities Act, little guidance specific to these types of
venues has been set forth by the federal enforcement agencies. Technical
assistance and guidance materials that do exist are written in very
general terms, leaving application to these specialty venues up
to the interpretation of the facility administrators and their membership
In February 2002, the National Center on Accessibility initiated
a survey of performance venues, theaters and sports arenas in partnership
with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the ADA/504
Coordinators for the Arts and the Indiana Institute for Community
and Disability. The purpose of the survey was to identify policies
and procedures common to accommodating patrons with disabilities
in performance venues and sports arenas, while also identifying
exemplary practices and issues without clear guidance or solutions.
This project addresses the issues inclusive of the needs of people
with physical, sensory and cognitive impairments attending performance
venues and sports arenas.
An on-line survey was developed in collaboration with staff of
the Collaborative Work Lab at the Indiana Institute for Community
and Disability at Indiana University. The survey was developed using
GroupSystems software and posted on the Institute's "Polling
Place" website (www.thepollingplace.org)
from February through May 2002. Survey participants were also given
the option of either completing the survey over the phone or via
mail or fax with a paper survey. Survey participants were recruited
through e-mail, listserv and newsletter announcements of the National
Center on Accessibility and e-mail distributions through the ADA/504
Coordinators for the Arts and the Kennedy Center.
Survey participants were asked questions about the size and nature
of their facility, job responsibility and specific policies for
accommodating patrons with disabilities. This report summarizes
survey responses and conclusions. In addition, recommendations for
venue operators are made based upon the research findings and NCA
staff expertise in the field of designing facilities, programs and
services inclusive of people with disabilities.
II. Data Analysis
About the Respondents
Approximately 114 professionals from performance venues, theaters
and sports arenas participated in the on-line survey.
Types of Venues Represented
|Performing Arts Center
|College/University Performing Arts or Cultural Center
|Cultural Arts Center
|Other (Opera company, government entity, arts council)
The size of represented venues ranged from 95 seats to 65,000 seats.
What is the size of your venue?
|50 seats or less
|51 to 299 seats
|300 to 999 seats
|1,000 to 9,999 seats
|10,000 to 19,999 seats
|Over 20,000 seats
Seventy two percent (72%) of respondents represented non-profit
entities owning or operating these types of facilities. Sixty percent
(60%) of the respondents represented entities of state or local
government with these types of facilities, while 40% of those responding
represented privately owned facilities. No respondents reported
representation of a facility of a federal agency.
Respondents varied in primary job responsibilities.
|Box Office Manager
|Facility Manager (and/or Audience Services Managers)
|Administrator (including Communication and Event Coordinators)
|Accessibility Coordinator (ADA/504 Coordinator)
Fifty six percent (56%) of the respondents were responsible for
compliance with either the Americans with Disabilities Act or Section
504 of the Rehabilitation Act or both. Forty six percent (46%) reported
that they had a person at their facility specifically assigned to
|Survey Respondents by Zip Code.
Written Policy Statement Welcoming Patrons with Disabilities
Forty five percent (45%) of the respondents reported having a written
policy statement welcoming patrons with disabilities to their venue,
while the majority 55% of respondents reported having no written
welcome statement. Many reported using the welcome statements for
patrons with disabilities in brochures, programs and other marketing
publications. Respondents used the welcome statements not only to
welcome guests to their facilities, but also give information on
accessible features of the venues and available auxiliary aids or
services. Some welcome statements also included staff contact information
in the event a patron needed additional information or to request
specific accommodations. Examples of welcome statements provided
by respondents include:
"The [name of venue] is dedicated to enriching
our State, community and region; reaching out to an ever -changing
population through quality education programs, accessibility services
and a diverse array of the finest performing arts presented at our
state-of-the-art facilities that both compliment and enhance the
"Opening Worlds to Everyone. In an effort to provide
arts for all, the [name of venue] offers numerous programs for
people of all abilities. Whether you take a class, attend a play
or concert, visit our galleries, or help as a volunteer, we want
you to feel comfortable here. If you're visiting for the first
time, WELCOME! Come on in."
"[Name of venue] is committed to making its facility
and programs accessible to all patrons. Each request is viewed
on a case-by-case basis and reasonable efforts will be made to
make such accommodations whenever possible."
"We welcome the opportunity to assist guests with disabilities
to enjoy all [name of organization] facilities, programs and services.
For assistance and information on accessibility, contact [name
of service department] at (XXX) XXX-XXXX (voice or TTY)."
Instead of answering the question with a welcome statement, many
respondents listed the accessibility features within their venues
such as accessible parking, elevators, wheelchair seating and companion
seating, interpreter services, etc.
Wheelchair Accessible Seating
All of the respondents reported wheelchair accessible seating is
provided at their venue. However, based on the total number of seats
and the total number of wheelchair accessible seats/spaces reported
for each venue, 30% of the respondents did not have the required
number of wheelchair accessible seats/spaces required under the
Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines. (ADAAG).
Seventy percent (70%) of the respondents reported they did indeed
have a policy for selling wheelchair accessible seats. When asked
to describe their policy, of those respondents with a policy, 70%
voluntarily stated their policy allows for the accompaniment of
one companion seat adjacent to the wheelchair accessible seating.
Only 3% stated their policy allows for the accompaniment of multiple
companion seats adjacent to the wheelchair accessible seating. Samples
of policies provided:
"One wheelchair space and one companion seat per
"Wheelchair accessible seats are only sold when the customer
specifically requests them and may have one companion accompany
them (free-standing chair)."
"Basically we try to screen people who purchase tickets
at our box office as to what their needs are. If we can determine
that they only need an aisle seat or just can't climb stairs,
then we will try to accommodate them in another location rather
than using our accessible seating areas. Unfortunately we cannot
control that with our ticket outlets, phone sales and internet
"Wheelchair seats are only sold upon request. They are
not offered if not requested.
"If the patron is confined to a wheelchair and cannot
transfer into a regular seat, we usually sell one seat to the
wheelchair patron and a second seat to his guest. If the patron
has to remain in their wheelchair, then we have to pull out two
seats in the front row to accommodate the wheelchair."
"Patrons must request accessible seating when purchasing
tickets. They are allowed to purchase two accessible seats, one
for the person requiring the accessible seating and one seat for
someone to accompany them. Under certain circumstances we will
sell more than two seats, but typically it is only two seats."
"Our policy is quite detailed about saving wheelchair
accessible areas to sell until last if not needed by a wheelchair
bound patron. Our policy explains how to sell 'removable' seat
locations as well as 'transfer' locations. We provide guaranteed
seating for one companion to each wheelchair. Other companions
may sit next to or near the rest of their party as space allows.
We also have a 'manager's calendar' where all wheelchair sales
are recorded so that we may alert our house managers before each
performance about the impending patron needs."
Survey participants were asked "How long prior to an event
do you hold open the wheelchair accessible seating?"
How long prior to the event do
you hold open the wheelchair accessible seating?
|Held open until show time
|Released immediately once all remaining seats are sold
|Released the morning of the event
|Always held - never released to general public
|Release some on sellout, but not all wheelchair seats
|Released one hour prior to show time
|Released 3 - 10 days in advance of the show
|Other (depends on promoter's request)
Seventy percent (70%) of respondents provide wheelchair accessible
seats at various ticket price levels. Policy examples include:
"Wheelchair patrons are offered the lowest priced
seats available, after which the next price scale is offered."
"Accessible seats are reserved until 24 hours prior to
the performance, companion seats are adjacent. If accessible seating
is not open at patron's chosen price, they are upgraded without
Seventy percent (70%) of the respondents reported having a policy
permitting service animals. Generally, policies permitted the service
animal to sit beneath the patron, not in the aisle. Some policies
were specific to state service animals were permitted as long as
they do not disturb the performance. Examples of policies included:
Personal Care Attendants
"Disabled patrons who are accompanied by a service animal
may be seated in any available theater seat. The patron will be
advised that their animal may be more comfortable in seats that
allow more legroom (box seats, far left or far right), but no
seat will be denied them."
"Guide dogs and other service animals are welcome in
all parts of the [name of venue]. Service animals-in-training
are permitted, when possible, in exhibit areas and performance
spaces upon request with one week prior notice."
Respondents were asked about their policies permitting the admission
of personal care attendants to accompany a patron with a disability.
Thirteen percent (13%) of the respondents reported they either did
not have a set policy or handled the issue on a case-by-case basis.
Some open-ended responses stated very strong opinions such as "it
is unfair to every other paying customer to comp [provide a complimentary
ticket to] a [personal] care attendant."
What best describes your policy
about the entrance of personal care attendants?
|Our policy requires personal care attendants to purchase a
|Our policy permits personal care attendants to accompany the
person they are caring for and attend the performance free of
No set policy, issue has never come up
|We address the issue on a case by case basis
Auxiliary Aids and Services
Auxiliary aids and services such as sign language interpreters,
audio description, and other alternate formats are sometimes required
to facilitate program access for patrons with disabilities. Respondents
were asked what types of auxiliary aids or services are provided
at their venues.
Which of the following auxiliary
aids or services do you provide? (check all that apply)
|Assistive listening devices
|Sign language interpreters/oral interpreters
|Public TTY/text telephones
|Large print programs
|Other: Check the box to the right, then describe "other"
in the text box below
|Audio description (for people with visual impairments)
|Captioning or transcription devices
Twenty five percent (25%) of those responding offered additional
information about the nature of their auxiliary aids and services.
"Typically we do not provide interpreters for sporting
events but do upon request for other events."
"[We provide] advance script service."
"If there is a request for any of the above [auxiliary
aids or services], we will hold a special showing to meet those
needs or will hire someone during a performance to meet those
"Sign language, captioning, audio description is done
depending on the production. Each user signs a contract addendum
agreeing to accommodate those with disabilities."
Forty one percent (41%) of respondents provide auxiliary aids and
services both upon the request of the patron and specifically for
scheduled performances. Thirty two percent (32%) of the respondents
only provide auxiliary aids or services upon request, while 13%
schedule the auxiliary aids or services for specific performances.
Of the respondents that provided auxiliary aids or services, 92%
requested advance notice while 8% reported that requests can be
made up until show time.
If you provide auxiliary aids
or services, such as sign language interpreters, upon request,
how much advance notice do you require?
|More than 2 weeks
|Requests can be made up until show time
In terms of accommodations for specific disability populations,
44% reported having specific policies for accommodating patrons
who are deaf or hard of hearing.
"We offer one signed performance during the run of each
show. Assistive listening devices are available for every performance."
"We offer regularly scheduled ASL interpreted performances
of Broadway musicals, family shows, and education-related events;
other performances are upon request. We're about to offer our
second open captioned performance of a Broadway musical and hope
to offer on a semi-regular schedule in the near future."
"Guests must request the sign interpreter three weeks
in advance, in order to provide sufficient time to retain a signer
and give the signer adequate preparation time. In all cases, providing
a signer is subject to availability of qualified signer and the
ability to obtain from the event the necessary information to
allow adequate preparation. The placement of the signer is determined
on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration such things
as the seating configuration and stage set up, to allow for effective
communication. We offer one companion seat to accompany the guest
who has requested the interpreter. Additional companion seats
may be purchased based on availability."
"We provide assistive listening devices and second row
seating for the hard of hearing. We provide an interpreter and
assigned seating section for the Sunday matinee of Broadway shows.
Other events can be interpreted if a request is made by a patron."
Fifty eight percent (58%) of the respondents indicated they had
assigned seating sections for patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing
at events that are captioned or have sign language interpreters.
Designated sections included sections up front so that patrons had
views of both the stage and interpreter and sections to the side
so interpreter placement would not obstruct the views of other patrons.
Some respondents indicated that the designation of seating areas
to accommodate views of the interpreter and performance were determined
based on the number of patrons requesting interpreters or based
on the type of event.
Forty two percent (42%) of the respondents indicated they had a
designated TTY phone line to accept ticket orders.
Forty six percent (46%) of respondents reported having specific
policies for accommodating patrons with visual impairments. Accommodations
included the provision of audio described performances, large print
or Braille programs and written or audio synopses. Thirty nine percent
(39%) of those that reported having specific accommodations for
patrons with visual impairments described either holding locations
in front, seating in the same section as those that need the sign
language interpreter or seating as close to the stage as possible.
Eleven percent (11%) reported they had specific policies for accommodating
patrons with cognitive impairments.
Forty eight percent (48%) of respondents reported providing staff
training or staff resource materials on interacting with patrons
with disabilities. Respondents with staff training reported either
utilizing an annual or semi-annual training program where ADA and
disability awareness were included in the curriculum. Respondents
also reported training specific to ticket agents and audience services
staff. Only one respondent reported inclusion of sensitivity training
and ADA policies in their new employee orientation training, while
another respondent stated information on accommodations was included
in their staff manual.
Seventy four percent (74%) of respondents reported they had a governing
or advisory board. However, only 32% of those respondents reported
having representation of people with disabilities on their board.
Sixty one percent (61%) of respondents reported they did not actively
market to people with disabilities.
"We market the signed performances. Response is almost
always very poor."
"All events are marketed to the general public. No individual
group is specifically excluded."
"To deaf and hard of hearing community with ads in local
newsletters and house programs of area deaf theatre company, presence
at annual trade show for deaf consumers, direct mailing of brochures."
"We direct-mail to area agencies that serve people with
disabilities and send [news] releases to media who serve people
"All ads for our organization feature the wheelchair
symbol. Target marketing is done for programs such as sign, caption
and audio description."
"We make sure that all of our marketing materials point
out that we are accessible and available and may be contacted
if there are any special needs."
Respondents were asked "Is there anything else you would like
us to know about how your facility accommodates visitors with disabilities?"
Some responses follow:
"Whatever the disability is, it is our policy to make
it work for the patron. We go to extraordinary efforts to get
everyone in who wishes to attend."
"We try to be as accommodating as possible while maintaining
a fair environment to those who do not have special needs."
"All of our staff members share a philosophy of inclusion
and nurturance and respect for all persons, including those with
"Our overall policy is to make every effort to be as
welcoming as possible to the entire community. We are a service
organization for this community and this constituency is an important
part of this community. If this means going the extra mile to
accommodate someone (even at the last minute), our policy is to
say 'Thank you for letting us serve you."
"We are an older facility and lack the modern design
that addresses these issues. We are willing to go to most any
extreme to accommodate patrons with disabilities to make their
experience at our facility a pleasant one."
"The accommodations that are required by the ADA far
exceed the requests we receive from patrons."
Welcome statements. Fifty five percent (55%)
of the respondents did not have welcome statements, while many
respondents listed the accessibility features within their venues
such as accessible parking, elevators, wheelchair seating and
companion seating, interpreter services, etc. These types of
responses coupled with the 55% of the respondents that did not
have welcome statements at their venues indicates the lack of
awareness of what a welcome statement is and its value in marketing
accommodations for patrons with disabilities.
Legal obligations. Open-ended survey responses on policies
for service animals and sign language interpreters raised the
most concern on the lack of awareness of legal obligations under
the ADA and Section 504. In addition, as is evident with survey
responses some 12 years after the passage of the Americans with
Disabilities Act, 30% of those reporting venues did not have
the required number of wheelchair accessible seating.
Terminology. Peppered throughout the survey open-ended
responses were out-of-date, inappropriate, and sometimes derogatory
references for people with disabilities, auxiliary aids and
accessibility features such as: the handicapped, confined
to wheelchair, wheelchair bound, handicapped seating/parking,
ADA seating, handicapped-accessible, seeing eye dogs, animal
aids, sight dogs, helper dogs, signer, and visually impaired
Wheelchair accessible seating. Two general issues are
apparent from the survey in terms of wheelchair accessible seating
policies: companion seating and length of time wheelchair accessible
seating is held open prior to an event, especially for events
that may sell out quickly. While 70% of the respondents reported
their wheelchair accessible seating also accommodates for a
companion seat, industry organizations such as the International
Ticketing Association (INTIX) report the average group size
ranges from 2.2 to 3.4 people. A patron using a wheelchair is
also likely to be traveling with more companions than just one.
Thus there is a need for the venue to have more than one companion
seat per wheelchair accessible seating space. In terms of holding
wheelchair accessible seating, some advise to sell those tickets
as soon as the general tickets are sold out, others advise waiting
two weeks, 24 hours or all the way up to show time before releasing
the tickets. By the varied responses, it is clear that there
is not enough federal guidance or consistency within the industry
recommending the length of time wheelchair accessible seating
should be held open prior to an event.
Ticket prices. There was not enough information from
the open-ended responses on offering wheelchair accessible seats
at various ticket price levels and discount ticket policies
to identify common policies amongst venues. More research needs
to be conducted to develop guidance on offering tickets at various
Service animals. A number of the responses provided
discussing policies permitting service animals illustrate the
lack of knowledge of the ADA and Section 504 requirements among
venue operators. Some responses clearly demonstrate the venue
policy does not comply with the ADA and Section 504: "We
allow service animals in the building. If the animal is large
or cannot be comfortably seated next to the patron, they have
the option of purchasing the seat next to them for the animal."
"There is box tier seating and for patrons with service
animals, we request advance notice and we will seat them there."
"Due to possible allergic reactions, service animals are
generally not permissible.
Sign language interpreters. Some responses on the provisions
of sign language interpreters or other auxiliary aids and services
raise issue to the lack of clear guidance on the requirements
of the ADA and Section 504 for these types of venues: "It
is our understanding that if a run is a certain length of time
(is it 6 weeks?) ADA requires us to provide a signed performance.
We do not provide individual interpreters." "Interpreters
are provided at the discretion of the event promoter."
"We have scripts to follow with-as we are small, the stage
lighting usually are fine for the patron. They seem to enjoy
this option. I can do large print programs on request.
Program access. The research findings indicate that
auxiliary aids and services are not provided at the same level
of service or frequency as accommodations for physical access.
While 100% of respondents reported providing wheelchair accessible
seating, only 55% reported the provision of sign language interpreters,
32% provided large print programs and only 24% provided audio
description. The ADA and Section 504 require the provision of
both physical access and program access. The accessible seat
is as important to the wheelchair users as the audio describer
is to the person who is visually impaired. Both of these provisions
enable people with disabilities the opportunity to benefit from
Advance notice. Responses ranged from requiring more
than two weeks notice to 72 hours notice for the request of
auxiliary aids or services such as sign language interpreters.
Additional federal guidance could clarify what is a reasonable
time frame for requesting auxiliary aids or services.
Disparity of treatment of accommodations for different disability
populations. While close to half the total number of respondents
reported accommodations and specific policies for people with
physical impairments, hearing impairments and visual impairments,
only 11% reported they had specific policies for accommodating
patrons with cognitive impairments. However, those respondents
made no mention of accommodations such as interpretive services
or educational programs before the event to prepare people with
cognitive impairments for the performance or discuss/explain
further afterward. Instead respondents pointed to policies as
to how staff responds if someone has a "severe emotional
outburst" or causes disruptions during the performance.
One respondent reported that if this happens, "in some
instances, a cab is called and the teacher and student return
to school." Stereotypical responses allude to the prejudice
that the only accommodations needed for people with cognitive
impairments have to deal with behavior issues. This further
illustrates the disparity of treatment and lack of awareness
for serving patrons with developmental disabilities, Alzheimer's,
stroke, traumatic brain injury, etc.
Staff training. Only 48% of the respondents reported
including disability awareness in their existing training programs.
This further illustrates the lack of emphasis or importance
placed on legal obligations and methods to successfully accommodate
patrons with disabilities at venues.
Outreach. Only 32% of the respondents having a governing
or advisory board actually had representation of people with
disabilities on their board. In addition, in the United States
where one in five people has some type of disability, only 39%
of respondents reported they actively marketed to people with
disabilities. In a 1998 report to the President, people with
disabilities were reported to have $175 billion in discretionary
income. In short
.that's a lot of tickets! People with
disabilities want to go to the theater, performances and sporting
events with their families and friends the same as people without
disabilities. However, outreach to people with disabilities
is essential in any industry or area of parks, recreation and
tourism in order to increase participation.
Good faith effort. As is evident by the last open-ended
question, many respondents had positive attitudes about serving
people with disabilities at their venues. However, it is important
to consider that this was a voluntary survey. In a random sample
survey, the frequency of positive responses may not be at the
Develop Policies Inclusive of Patrons with Disabilities.
All venues serving the public should develop policies that promote
inclusion of patrons with disabilities so that they may enjoy all
of the same opportunities and benefits as patrons without disabilities.
Consider seeking input from consumers with disabilities and local
disability advocacy organizations in the development of policies.
From providing information via TTY, to selling tickets for wheelchair
accessible seating, to providing a sign language interpreter or
audio description, all staff should be trained on the venue policies
and procedures for selling tickets and accommodating patrons with
disabilities. Staff should be especially well trained on issues
that often lack clarity such as entrance of service animals, ticket
hold and release procedure, eligibility criteria, etc. Sometimes
staff is put in a precarious position to have to make on-the-spot
decisions. When policies, procedures and legal obligations are clear
for staff, decisions are easy.
Designate an Accessibility Coordinator to Ensure Compliance
with Federal Requirements. Venues should also designate one
staff member to coordinate ADA and/or Section 504 compliance. A
designated accessibility coordinator should be well-trained on the
federal requirements while ensuring that all policies and procedures
of the venue are in compliance. The designated accessibility coordinator
should also have direct access to decision makers and planners.
The Accessibility Coordinator should play an integral role in the
development of policies and regularly contribute to staff training.
Identify architectural and programmatic barriers and develop
a plan for barrier removal. As is evident with survey responses,
some 12 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities
Act, 30% of those reporting venues did not have the required number
of wheelchair accessible seating. Moreover responses to open-ended
questions regarding interpreters and service animals illustrated
some venue operators were still not clear on the legal requirements
under the ADA and/or Section 504. Venue operators should identify
architectural and programmatic barriers and develop a plan for barrier
removal. Citizens with disabilities should be included in the planning
Write a Welcome Statement, Say It Loud and Proud. All public
entities and places of public accommodation should develop statements
welcoming visitors, patrons and guests of all abilities. Welcome
statements in venue publications, brochures, programs, advertisement
and so forth can be especially valuable communication tools as the
first point of contact with patrons with disabilities. The welcome
statement not only says "Welcome, we are here to serve you,"
it also states how to request an accommodation or a specific staff
contact at the venue. The welcome statement can serve as the public
notice requirement under Title II of the ADA, simply stated we understand
your rights and our legal obligation. However, the public notice/welcome
statement should be stated in a friendly, non-legal language. It
should also include enough contact information in the event an individual
needs to make a request for accommodation.
Use Appropriate Terminology When Referring to People with Disabilities.
Peppered throughout the survey open-ended responses were out-of-date,
inappropriate, and sometimes derogatory references for people with
disabilities, auxiliary aids and accessibility features such as:
the handicapped, confined to wheelchair, wheelchair bound, handicapped
seating/parking, ADA seating, handicapped-accessible, seeing eye
dogs, animal aids, sight dogs, helper dogs, signer, and visually
impaired seats. Terminology is a reflection of attitude. Use of
appropriate terminology when referring to people with disabilities
can project a positive attitude of customer service. When referring
to people with disabilities, "People First" language should
be used. Appropriate terminology should be reflected in all aspects
of business activities including welcome statements, written publications,
signage, and all other communications between the venue staff and
Develop Guidelines for Inquires About Accommodations. The
ADA prohibits unnecessary inquiries into the existence of a disability
(Technical Assistance Manual Title III: 4.1300). Inasmuch an entity
is restricted from asking such questions as "what's your disability?"
However, in order to effectively and efficiently provide accommodations
for patrons with disabilities, it may be necessary at the time of
ticket purchase or request of accommodation that staff ask questions
specific to the accommodation itself. While two patrons may be categorized
as people with physical disabilities, one may use a wheelchair and
one may be ambulatory using either a cane, crutches or walker. Thus,
their requirements for accessible seating are very different. The
ambulatory patron may only require a seat on shorter route or with
few steps whereas the wheelchair user will need space to accommodate
his or her wheelchair. Some wheelchair users may even prefer transferring
to a comfortable seat and temporarily storing their wheelchair during
the performance or sporting event. In addition to asking "Do
you require accessible seating," box office staff might also
ask "Do you require wheelchair accessible seating or would
a seat on a shorter route or with limited number of stairs also
meet your needs?" Instead of asking patrons if they are deaf
or hard of hearing, it would be more appropriate to ask "do
you require a sign language interpreter, assistive listening system,
captioning or other type of accommodation?" Venue managers
should work with professionals and consumers with disabilities versed
in the requirements of the ADA and Section 504 to develop a set
of questions for box office and audience services staff to use in
order to determine the appropriate accommodation for each patron.
Develop a Ticket Hold and Release Procedure. A reoccurring
them amongst venues with reserved seating is how long to hold open
the wheelchair accessible seating especially for events that may
sell out quickly. Some advise to sell those tickets as soon as the
general tickets are sold out, others advise waiting two weeks, 24
hours or all the way up to show time before releasing the tickets.
Venues should develop a procedure tailored to meet both the needs
of the venue and the event-going public with disabilities. In any
event, venues should consider holding "emergency tickets"
perhaps all the way up until show time for those unexpected occasions
when a patron arrives for a performance or event with a ticket for
an inaccessible seat and requires an accessible seating location
after all. This can happen for a variety of reasons including events
during a radio contest where the ticket giveaway goes to an individual
with a disability, occasions when a season ticket holder passes
their tickets to a friend or family member who may use a wheelchair,
to the unfortunate instance of miscommunication with the box office
at the time of purchase. Developing a procedure and making it known
to both staff and the public can avoid confusion when the doors
open at the time of the event.
Develop Specific Policies or Staff Guidance on the Entrance
of Service Animals. All venue staff should be aware of the legal
obligations to permit entrance of service animals in places of public
accommodations. In addition to stating the legal obligation to staff,
venue administrators should develop specific policies or staff guidance
on how to accommodate patrons with service animals within the facility
(i.e. can the service animal sit in the aisle or should the patron
be encouraged to situate the service animal under their seat, how
should staff address a patron when the service animal becomes disruptive,
etc.). Numerous resource materials are available on this subject
including the U.S. Department of Justice's "Commonly Asked
Questions About Service Animals" (www.ada.gov).
Consider using this handout or others in staff resource materials
or training manuals.
Develop a Policy Regarding the Admission of Personal Care Attendants.
Consider using the local center for independent living in the
creation of a policy about the admission of personal care attendants.
Some federal enforcement agencies have provided informal guidance
on this issue stating that if the person benefits from the program,
they too should pay the cost of admission.
Clarify Roles and Responsibilities in Contractual Agreements.
Contracts with promoters and production companies should be specific
on roles and responsibilities for meeting ADA and Section 504 compliance.
Who will be responsible for the provision of sign language interpreters,
audio description, wheelchair accessible seating, programs in alternate
Identify Effective Auxiliary Aids and Services and Develop Procedures
for Distribution. It is critical to develop procedures and policies
for the provision of auxiliary aids and services. How should the
auxiliary aids and services be requested? Who is responsible for
setting up the services? Who is responsible for maintenance of equipment
and methods of distribution, etc? It should also be noted that a
public accommodation may not impose a surcharge on a particular
individual with a disability to cover the costs of the provision
of an auxiliary aid.
Ensure Auxiliary Aids and Services Are Available and Working.
Auxiliary aids and services such as assistive listening devices
should be tested regularly to ensure they are working and properly
charged, staff know where they are located and how to operate special
devices. This includes testing wheelchair lifts. Also consider periodically
surveying patrons with disabilities about the use of the auxiliary
aids and services. Was the captioning or audio description effective?
Was information about advance request, notifications and signage
clear and concise? Patrons may be able to provide suggestions for
improving services for future performances or events.
Training, training, training. From the front-line box office
and audience services staff all the way to the executive director
and board members, training is an essential component for effectively
serving patrons with disabilities. General training on disability
awareness and appropriate terminology is beneficial to staff at
all levels. Additionally, training should be tailored to job responsibilities.
This is where programs can be more specific on procedures such as
taking requests for accommodations at the box office, greeting and
seating patrons with disabilities when the doors open, maintaining
equipment like assistive listening devices, etc.
Tap the Market. People with disabilities want to go to the
theater, performances and sporting events with their families and
friends the same as people without disabilities. Use all current
marketing materials as a primary method to market to potential patrons
with disabilities. This can be done simply by adding a welcoming
statement in marketing materials. Also, consider marketing specifically
to different disability populations within the community as a secondary
approach. When adding new services such as audio description, be
sure to market the services to user groups such as area centers
for independent living. Word of the new service is sure to spread
like wild fire and generate new business for the venue.
For venues to successfully include people with disabilities in
all facets of their facilities, programs and services, they must
tap into the market. As in all aspects of marketing, venue operators
should know who their patrons are, and in this case, who their patrons
with disabilities are. How are they using their facility? What features
(architectural and programmatic) are accessible to them? What features
remain inaccessible? While 70% of respondents reported their wheelchair
accessible seating policy allows for one companion seat adjacent
to the wheelchair seating, other market data shows that theater-goers
travel in groups averaging in size from 2.2 to 3.5 people. If this
is the case for a venue such as an outdoor amphitheater with a summer
concert series, venue operators should consider increasing the number
of companion seats either adjacent to the wheelchair seating or
in the adjacent rows. Implementing policies that embrace the principles
of universal design is beneficial to patrons of all abilities, the
venue and surrounding community.
Participation in community events, cultural arts and recreation
activities is essential for people with and without disabilities
to carry out healthy, balanced lifestyles. Action needs to be taken
on a national level. Many of the recommendations set forth in this
report are targeted towards the operation of individual venues.
Information gathered in this survey is only a small sampling of
existing policies and procedures common to accommodating patrons
with disabilities in performance venues and sports arenas. Within
this report, specific recommendations on policy issues could not
always be provided due to the lack of federal guidance and consistency
within industry practices. The next steps of involvement on the
national level should include:
- Follow up to this preliminary study. Further research should
be conducted to gather more specific information on issues such
as ticket buying policies, hold/release policies, ticket price
policies and others that were only briefly addressed in this initial
- In addition, a national survey of people with disabilities
should be conducted to determine how well venues are responding
to their disability-related needs and what barriers still exist.
- Finally, in order to address the accessibility issues that most
challenge venue operators, a national dialogue needs to be established
among the industry, enforcement agencies and people with disabilities
so that we can continue to move toward full inclusion of people
with disabilities in the performing arts and sports entertainment
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