Three Possible Options Offered
Justice Seeking Input On Wheelchair
Placement In Stadium-Style Cinemas
by Steven John Fellman
NATO Washington Counsel
The Department of Justice
(DOJ) published on Sept. 30 an advance notice of proposed
rulemaking with regard to
the Revised Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards.
The DOJ announced that it would, guided by the Revised
ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) published by the Access
Board in July, be revising the ADA Standards that all public
facilities, such as movie theatres, are required to meet.
The new standards will not become final until 2006.
Because many of the issues
are controversial, the DOJ is seeking comment on some
of the most problematic areas.
One of these involves the location of wheelchair seating
in stadium-style auditoria. According to the DOJ:
“Beginning in the mid-1990s, the first stadium-style movie theatres were
built in the United States. … The enhanced lines of sight provided by these
stadium-style movie theatres proved to be highly popular with the moviegoing
public and consequently fueled a boom in stadium-style theatre construction nationwide.
theatre designs have evolved somewhat over the years
and typically vary from theatre circuit to theatre circuit,
two essential features
have remained constant: (i) movie patrons seated in the stadium sections
of stadium-style theatres enjoy enhanced lines of sight
to the screen as compared
to patrons seated in the traditional sections of these theatres; and (ii)
movie patrons who use wheelchairs are excluded from the
stadium sections of the great
majority of existing stadium-style theatres nationwide.”
Having reviewed the history
of the construction of stadium-style theatres, DOJ stated
that it has consistently taken the position that when
theatre company is marketing and selling the enhanced stadium-style moviegoing
to the general public, excluding patrons who use wheelchairs from these
stadium sections violates Title III of the ADA. The department
added that it has “emphasized
that individuals who use wheelchairs need not be provided the best seats in
the house, but neither should they be relegated categorically to locations
with the worst views of the screen.”
Because of the litigation
that has arisen with regard to the issue of where movie
theatres should put wheelchair seating areas, the DOJ
it is considering proposing regulations specifically applicable to stadium-style
movie theatres. The proposed regulations would set forth two separate
requirements. First, the regulation would require wheelchair
seating locations to be
placed in the stadium section of a stadium-style movie theatre. Second,
would also establish one or more standards governing the placement of
wheelchair seating locations within the stadium section.
NATO has supported the
proposition that in new construction, wheelchair
seating be placed on a riser at the cross aisle in the stadium section
of a stadium
style theatre. NATO’s position was adopted by the ANSI 117 Committee
in the 2003 Revised ANSI Standard. This ANSI standard requires that in
new construction, wheelchair seating in motion picture theatres be placed
riser in the rear 70 percent of the seats in the auditorium. This applies
to auditoria of under 300 seats.
The DOJ has offered three
possible options for consideration. These options could
be considered either alone or in combination. All options
that the wheelchair locations be placed in the stadium section of the
theatre on a riser.
Option 1. The first option
would be to adopt what the DOJ refers to as a “viewing
angle requirement.” This refers to the provision in Section 221.2.3 of
the Revised ADAAG, which states “wheelchair spaces shall provide
spectators with viewing angles that are substantially equivalent
to or better than the
viewing angles available to other spectators.”
There are obvious problems
with this option. The major problem is that there is
no way to define what viewing angles are better than
Historically, the DOJ has taken the position that the smaller the
viewing angle the better the viewing angle. But this analysis leads
Under this analysis, the viewing angle from the top row of a 500-seat
theatre would be considered the best viewing angle in the house.
is not true. Adoption of this option would create more litigation.
Option 2. The DOJ’s second option is based on the ANSI standard. However,
the DOJ notes that while the ANSI standard requires that the wheelchair seating
be located within the rear 70 percent of the seats of the movie theatre, the
DOJ would like the wheelchairs to be moved further back. The DOJ suggests that
the seating be located on a riser in the rear 60 percent of the auditorium.
In this context, we have learned in discussions with the DOJ that when they
refer to a “riser,” the DOJ means what the DOJ refers to as a “majority
height riser.” If this means that you have 6 rows of 8-inch
risers and 8 rows of 16-inch risers in the theatre, the wheelchair
seating must be on
a 16-inch riser since a majority of the risers are 16-inch risers.
In most stadium-style
theatres currently under construction, wheelchair seating
is located on a cross aisle which is in itself
However, these cross
aisles are not “majority height” risers. The majority height risers
start in the row behind the wheelchair seating so that people in the row behind
the cross aisle have adequate clearance over the heads of the wheelchair patrons.
The DOJ’s theory of “majority height risers” presents
a real problem.
Option 3. The third option
proposed by the DOJ is to have a combination of viewing
angles and percentiles. This is the
the DOJ used in
a settlement agreement in the case of Arnold v. United Artists
agreement specifies that the wheelchair seating locations
should be placed “within
the area of an auditorium in which the vertical viewing angles to the top of
the screen are from the 50th to the 100th percentile of vertical viewing angles
for all seats as ranked from the seats in the first row to the seats in the
back row.” Again, it is our understanding that the
DOJ would require majority height risers.
The NATO Codes task force
considered these options at its meeting in November,
and NATO will be filing comments with
chains are encouraged to review the DOJ proposal, which
appears in the Sept. 30, 2004 issue of the Federal Register.
chains are invited
comments to the Department of Justice.
All comments are due
Jan. 28, 2005. Any NATO member who has input with regard
to NATO’s comments should send such information to NATO vice president
MaryAnn Anderson at the association’s headquarters
in Washington, D.C.