A Measure of Entry

I had some people from the state disabilities board come visit my theatre at my request today. When they visited last about 6 years ago to provide input into renovations, there were apparently some miscommunications. I was told that my predecessors were told we couldn’t have reserved seating in the theatre because of ADA standards. The people from the board told me the only reason they would advise that would be if people with disabilities couldn’t order reserved seats and everyone else could. Certainly that is not the case with my theatre.

They also came to assess two locations on row E that clearly appear to be seating for people in wheelchairs. Six years ago we were told that we couldn’t have people in wheelchairs there because it wasn’t up to code. Unfortunately, it was a verbal comment so no one knew how the problem could be fixed. In addition, because it appears to be a place for wheelchairs, is closer to the stage and doesn’t require a slow ride up on a chair lift, people really want to sit there.

The preliminary comments of the gentlemen who were assessing the space was that it can clearly accommodate wheelchairs without fear of them falling to the level below. However, other people in the row might not be able to pass them. This was sort of disheartening because my theatre pretty much has the widest row of any theatre on the island.

If they are right, it may require knocking a couple seats off near the location and building an extension so that people could pass in front of them. I would really consider losing the 2 seats on either side of the theatre because the locations really make it easy for everyone involved, theatre staff and customers both. We rarely have to use the chair lift because we only have 2-3 wheelchairs at any one time in the theatre. And we haven’t sold the theatre out so often that we would be wishing we had those last 4 seats to sell.

Now I just have to wait for the official report. At least if they say I can’t seat people there, I will finally have it in writing.

Of course, while they were there, they noticed a few other little problems. None of them were really serious and a few of them are fairly easy to fix by simply moving some signs a few inches. One of them ironically was a very specific fix that their office had suggested 6 years earlier.

Interestingly enough the ADA standards are a little racist and sexist. A lot of them seem to be based on the size of white Anglo-Saxon males. As a result, to be in compliance, I have to move some Braille signs to a place that is natural for someone of my build to read, but could be a little stretch for the generally shorter Asian and Polynesian population which comprise the majority here on Oahu.
It never occurred to me until the guy pointed the spot out and I realized it would be above the heads of quite a few of those who use the restrooms. He commented that the standards were based on Mainland norms.

I also learned that there is no grandfather clause exemptions for ADA requirements. While age of a building will exempt a building of other architectural requirements, the best you can do with ADA requirements is meet them to the fullest extent possible.

Overall I felt good about having them come out. For every little flaw they found, they also found an element of our set up which most other companies did not have.

Also, it is probably good to have an assessment like this periodically so that one can be a little proactive about making changes and show good faith effort if someone accuses your organization of being deficient.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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