Take a SeatPlay Ball!

Getting tickets for the big game or concert shouldn't be a hassle for wheelchair users. New rules are helping to ease the pain.

So, there is a fabulous new stadium in town and the team looks good this year-—you’d best move fast to get good seats. Every year, a new sports season offers new opportunities for fun and (if things go right) a winning team. Are you going to be able to enjoy it?

Most new ballparks, arenas, and stadiums are being built according to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines and offer accessible seating throughout the facility. A few design and architecture firms specialize in large sport facilities and have learned along the way what works, mostly by including people with disabilities in the planning process.  But even the most accessible facility doesn’t mean you’ll be able to enjoy the game or show.

Ticket Sales

Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) members and other wheelchair users have struggled for years to be able to buy accessible seats in theaters, stadiums, arenas, etc. They generally must call a different number and wait for a return call or e-mail, and only rarely is it possible to buy a ticket for an accessible seat online. (Ticketmaster for years didn’t sell accessible seats and changed its policy only when the Department of Justice [DOJ] investigated and settled with them.) When it comes to season tickets, playoff games, or concerts that sell out fast, the problem becomes even more complex.

Twenty years after ADA, when DOJ issued its revised final regulations in September 2010, one of the most critical revisions was in the area of ticket sales. DOJ stated its existing regulations required that all ticketing options available to the general public likewise are available to people with disabilities. While this may have been the requirement, many facilities were making up their own rules.

For instance, the University of Oklahoma (Norman) wouldn’t allow a season ticket holder who needed wheelchair-accessible seating to purchase a particular seat. He was required to purchase a regular-season ticket to be exchanged on game day for an accessible location. On the member’s behalf, PVA filed a formal complaint with the Department of Education, starting a lengthy investigation that continues more than six years later (OU recently reported to PVA it is working to resolve this problem).

Keep It The Same

DOJ’s regulations apply to Title II and Title III entities such as state, local, and private facilities. These range from neighborhood theaters to 100,000-seat football stadiums; from single-event tickets to season tickets; and from dignified operas to screaming mosh pits.

Ticket sales must now be available to patrons with disabilities during the same hours, at the same prices, under the same terms, and by the same methods the general public can buy. If a third party such as Ticketmaster is involved, it must follow the same rules as the venue itself. Even discount or half-price ticket sellers must sell tickets for accessible seats (if any exist at the time of sale).

All levels of seat pricing must be available, too. This is not much of a problem in new facilities where accessible seating is dispersed throughout the building. But in older facilities where accessible seating may be limited, a proportional number of tickets must be available at the price offered for seats in an inaccessible section.

For instance, you’re going to a game with a friend who likes sitting in the bleachers, but the bleachers are not accessible to wheelchairs. The venue must offer tickets at bleacher prices in a “comparable or better” location that is accessible.

Any information about general seating must include information about accessible seating to provide a customer the choice. If a website, brochure, or ticket office has a seating map, accessible seating must be indicated in the same detail as the rest of the seating bowl.

Accessible-seating rules apply to events at venues such as Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.

Bring Some Friends

For the first time, DOJ says an individual needing accessible seating must be able to purchase up to three seats for companions.  The earlier regulation hadn’t addressed the issue, and most facilities would sell only one companion seat per accessible seat. If the venue permits a person to buy any number of tickets, a wheelchair user can buy however many he or she likes, but only three have to be adjacent to the accessible seating. 

If a wheelchair user wins a ticket or gets one through work or friends, he or she may exchange it for an accessible seat if one is available. Likewise, if you buy an accessible seat but can’t attend the event, you may give your ticket to whomever you like.

Nothing Extra

These regulations don’t require that a venue lose money on unsold accessible seating areas. But they may not release accessible seating for sale to the general public unless they declare a sellout, either by section, pricing level, or the entire facility. They would even be permitted to sell season tickets for accessible seats if all other seats have been sold to season ticket holders, but those seats could not be offered for automatic renewals.

Potential problems still exist when an event—be it a rock concert or a playoff game—sells out in a matter of minutes. This makes it all the more critical that every method of buying tickets is available to people with disabilities.

DOJ’s guidance doesn’t offer specifics regarding season or multi-game (or show) tickets, but intends that no extra requirement be imposed on any individual who has a disability. Problems do exist in areas where the entire facility is sold to season ticket holders, but venues such as the University of Michigan after an MPVA lawsuit must make arrangements to allow wheelchair users to purchase season tickets for new accessible seating.

In Washington, D.C., this required moving fans with disabilities ahead of others on a lengthy waiting list for Washington Redskins season tickets, but the old stadium had no accessible seating, so no one who used a wheelchair bothered with the waiting list.

A Great Example

The Kennedy Center website is a great example of accessible ticket-sale processing and should be a model for other venues. Individuals can purchase tickets for specific accessible seats for specific events.

When you click the icon to see accessible seats, the following message appears on the screen: “You have requested to view available accessible seating. Accessible seating is reserved for the exclusive use of patrons with disabilities and their guests. Do you or a member of your party require accessible seating?” Only after clicking “yes” can you proceed to reserve appropriate seating. At that point you can choose among the theater levels and side or central seating. The same program also provides information (and close seating) for performances that are sign-language interpreted.

There is, of course, always the potential for fraud. A facility is not permitted to ask anyone for proof of disability to purchase tickets for accessible seating. For single events, venue staff may ask, as above, if the buyer requires accessible seating. For multi-event tickets, venues may ask buyers to attest in writing that they require those seats. And venues may investigate instances where they have reason to believe those seats have been purchased fraudulently.

If the building is accessible and the tickets are available, what are you waiting for? Get out there and enjoy the season, be it sports, music, theater or whatever. Find a good seat with a good view, and have a great time!

For more information, visit ada.gov/ticket

Contact: PVA Advocacy, 800-424-8200. 

As springtime approaches, so does the annual ritual of preparing for the baseball season. You can almost hear the crack of the bat and the strains of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” For most people, going to a baseball game involves familiar considerations: How much will that cost?

For people who use wheelchairs, however, even more basic concerns abound. You’ll need to know how to get to the stadium. What are my options for accessible parking?

How about seating? You will want to know if you have choices about where to sit. In the box seats down close to the field? Under cover if excessive heat is a concern?

Once you choose a seat, you’ll worry about whether you’ll be able to see when the crowd stands in front of you.

The answers to these questions will depend on when the stadium was built and how responsive the team is to its responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For stadiums built after 1992, you have a right to expect a choice of seats in a variety of locations; a line of sight over standing spectators; accessible parking, if parking is provided for other fans; and accessible restrooms and concession stands.

For older stadiums wheelchair access can be a problem. Most of the wheelchair seating may be concentrated along the mezzanine level. The seating locations themselves may be on platforms built out over existing rows to provide vision when people stand. Or, you might find yourself staring into people’s backs and wondering what’s happening on the field.

Don’t be too alarmed by the stark contrast between old and new. Consider three modern stadiums, homes to the Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, and Washington Nationals. All three were designed with input from the architects at Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). All offer state-of-the-art amenities and access.

If you should find yourself out in left field in an older stadium, call PVA. They’ll help you figure things out.

For more information, call 800-424-8200 or visit pva.org.

Contributor: Bob Herman.


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