The 8 problems with designated accessible seating

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If you have difficulty with stairs or use a wheelchair you usually need to purchase wheelchair accessible tickets for concerts, sporting events, and other places where assigned seating is required. This process is neither convenient, nor optimal. Places without assigned seating, like movie theaters, also have their share of problems. Here are the top 8 things that drive me nuts about having to buy and sit in designated accessible seating for events.

1. It’s a hassle.

Every facility and ticket website seems to have it’s own procedure for handling accessible ticket requests. Some sites will assist you in getting tickets. Others will direct you to the box office or ticket office at the facility. Sometimes the ticket agent doesn’t know how to find the accessible seats and you get transfered to someone else. Sometimes you physically have to go down to the ticket office to get your accessible tickets. This isn’t making it easy for someone with a disability! (Update 4/2012: The Pabst Theater in Milwaukee has added real-time accessible ticket purchasing!)

2. Seating is limited.

Many times an event will not be sold out for regular seats but the accessible spaces will be long gone. So if you use a wheelchair and want to go to a concert where there are still regular seats available, you’re screwed if there are no wheelchair spaces for you.

3. Seating is limited.

I said this in #2 but it’s also #3 for a different reason. Even if there are accessible spaces available, you are often limited to 2 spots — one for you and one for your companion. Well what if you are going to the event with more than one person? Disabled people can have more than just one friend or family member, right? It would be nice if the regular seats adjacent to the accessible spots could also be reserved for guests of disabled patrons so at least everyone could sit close together.

4. Seating is limited.

I sound like I am repeating myself, but here’s another problem with limited accessible spaces. If, in fact, the place does let you get more than two spaces then ultimately the accessible slots could be filled up with a bunch of non-disabled people. Throw in the fact that many people who *could* climb stairs but decide not to also suck up the accessible spaces, and you run into a supply issue again.

5. The seats usually aren’t in the best locations.

It would seem obvious to me that floor seating would be the best place to have wheelchair seating, right? Well a lot of the arenas are setup so that you have to enter then descend steps to get to the floor area. The only other way to get down there would be through back hallways not typically used for event goers. So then the problem is that if you need an accessible spot, you usually end up having to settle for a spot further back. In movie theaters, the situation is usually worse because you often get stuck sitting in the first row that is shared with a walkway that people use throughout the movie to go to the restroom or get snacks.

6. The companion seats are not comfortable.

I always feel badly for someone who goes along with me to a concert then has to sit on a metal folding chair instead of the regular, more comfortable seats. This is also a problem for the people who might not yet use a wheelchair but still need accessible seating. It’s never great sitting on metal for more than a few minutes, much worse a few hours.

7. Sometimes you have to fight for the seats.

This happens to me in movie theaters all the time, especially if I don’t get there early enough. People will sit in the accessible seats even if they don’t need them and you have to ask them to move. Part of the time I think it’s that they don’t realize they’re accessible seats because the sticker with the information is on the back of the seat — and who looks there for anything? It would be much better if there was something on the armrest or the cushion of the seat that makes it obvious the seat is reserved.

8. There’s usually not a discount for these crappy seats.

In many foreign countries, it’s standard that there are discounts for wheelchair users and their companions because of all of the above inconveniences. Rarely have I seen discounted accessible tickets for events here in the U.S.. Part of me wonders if it’s because then assholes will take advantage of the discount and sit there even if they don’t belong there. The other part of me wonders if it’s just capitalism at its worst. In either case, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to sell accessible seats at a discount to make up for the fact that the experience is not optimal.

I know a lot of the above issues would require retroactive changes to facilities and what-not. I just hope the people who build facilities in the future, organize the ticket sales, and handle the pricing can do something to help out disabled patrons.

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