New Parameters For
Wheelchair Placement Emerge
Court Approves Regal/
Justice ADA Settlement
by Steven John Fellman
NATO Washington Counsel
The U.S District Court in Boston has approved
the settlement entered into between Regal Cinemas and the
Justice which specifies where wheelchair seating must be
located in existing Regal stadium-style theatres, stadium
style theatres acquired by Regal after the date of the
settlement and theatres built by Regal after the date of
The settlement agreement does not cover
theatres purchased by Regal from United Artists, which
are subject to the
consent decree in the Arnold v. United
Artists case, or
Regal with several “viewing
placing wheelchair seating in new
construction but also gave Regal the right to place
wheelchair seating in the rear 60 percent of the seating
in an auditorium without any viewing
The Regal / DOJ settlement agreement is
lengthy and includes many pages of exhibits.1 This article
will focus on what
the settlement means for new construction of stadium-style
Since the late ‘90s, exhibitors and
the Department of Justice have been litigating the question
of where wheelchair
spaces should be located in stadium-style movie theatres.
The issue has been considered by five U.S.
courts of appeals with inconsistent and often conflicting
results. An attempt
to resolve the issue by obtaining a ruling from the U.S.
Supreme Court was thwarted when the Supreme Court refused
to accept the case.
The Department of Justice has argued that
wheelchair patrons are entitled to seating locations that
give them a viewing
experience at least equal to the viewing experience of
the average patron in the auditorium. In order to make
such a determination, the Department of Justice has contended
that an exhibitor must measure the vertical angle of sight
and the horizontal angle of sight from each seat in the
auditorium and from the wheelchair spaces. In analyzing
the results, the DOJ contends that smaller angles of sight
are better than larger angles of sight.
NATO has questioned the validity of any
comparison based on “angles of sight.” NATO argues that movie
patrons select seating options based on personal preferences – and
what is a “good” seat for one patron might
not be considered a “good” seat by another
NATO further argues that the government’s
method of measuring and comparing angles of sight is inherently
However, as early as 1999, NATO agreed to
comply with the DOJ position that in new construction of
movie auditoria of under 300 seats:
1. All wheelchair seating should be located
on a riser in the stadium section of the auditorium.
2. Every wheelchair space should have a companion seat
adjacent to it.
3. All wheelchair spaces should be integrated into the
general seating pattern of the auditorium, and
4. All wheelchair spaces should have an unobstructed view
of the screen.
The only real issues between NATO and the
DOJ for the past six years has been the issue of how far
back in the auditorium
the wheelchair locations must be placed and the issue of
how one measures compliance.
Last year the Department of Justice signaled
a new position by publishing a proposal regarding a revision
Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards. In its
Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the department
suggested that it would, for a stadium-style auditorium
of fewer than 300 seats, consider establishing a new standard
that would permit wheelchair seating to be located in the
rear 60 percent of the seating of the auditorium on the
cross aisle without any “angle of sight” requirements.
The wheelchair locations would be required
to have one-on-one companion seating; be in the general
seating pattern of
the auditorium; be centered in the cross aisle and offer
an unobstructed view of the screen. The cross aisle itself
must be a riser, not just the top of a sloped floor seating
The Department of Justice position was very
similar to the position taken by NATO in the 2003 American
Standards Institute (ANSI) standard revision where NATO
agreed to place wheelchair locations on a riser in the
rear 70 percent of the seats of an auditorium.
In the Regal settlement, the Department
of Justice provided Regal with several “viewing angle” alternatives
for placing wheelchair seating in new construction but
also gave Regal the right to place wheelchair seating in
the rear 60 percent of the seating in an auditorium without
any viewing angle considerations.
After carefully reviewing the Regal settlement,
the Cinemark settlement (which preceded the Regal settlement),
Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, it appears that
the Department of Justice’s current position is that,
for new construction, wheelchair seating located in the
rear 60 percent of the seating of an auditorium with fewer
than 300 seats meets ADA requirements if:
1. Wheelchair locations are in the general
seating pattern of the auditorium;
2. Wheelchair patrons have an unobstructed view of the
3. Wheelchair locations have one-on-one, shoulder-to-shoulder,
4. Wheelchair locations are centered horizontally on the
cross aisle; and
5. Wheelchair locations are placed on a cross aisle which
is a riser.
1 A copy of the settlement agreement is available by contacting
NATO or at the Department of Justice website: www.doj.gov.