Exhibs must make room for wheelchairs

Stadium seats don't offer good view

BOSTON — A Federal court has ordered Hoyts Cinemas and National Amusements to offer wheelchair space as part of their stadium seating configuration, and not merely leave some space on the surface level closest to the screen.

The U.S. District Court in Massachusetts has ruled that “the seats on the access-aisle and in the traditional seating section always offer an inferior viewing angle to the stadium seats.”

The action had been brought by the Federal government against the two chains, charging that under the American with Disabilities Act, movie theaters must offer handicapped patrons the opportunity for stadium style seating as well as in the front section, which is usually flat or sloped. However Judge William G. Young stopped short of ordering the chains to redesign theaters already in operation. Instead, the court ordered that for all new theaters — or for theaters being renovated — there must be seating options in the stadium style section.

The government argued that spaces for wheelchairs in the “traditional” non-stadium section was not sufficient under the ADA. Given that some 70% of the seats in a stadium style theater are in the tiered “stadium” section, the court found that some of the wheelchair spaces must be placed in this section. (Theaters that already do this provide elevators with access to the rear of the stadium seating.) The court noted that under the configuration for such theaters the “stadium section contains the most desirable seats.” The court specifically noted that the ADA does not require that the wheelchair spaces be the “best seats” in the house, “but it does prohibit the wheelchair seating from being the worst.”

The court ruling applies not only to the chain’s theaters in Massachusetts, but to more than three dozen stadium theaters in other parts of the country.

The decision was U.S. v. Hoyts Cinemas Corp. and National Amusements.

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