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5. 30.2000

Wheelchair Seating in Movie Theatres

Paralinks is asking you for any information, suggestions, ideas, personal accounts, legal issues, and stories about your experience's with inadequate, or that 'just right seating' available at movie theatres. We will begin this page with a local issue regarding access, but we welcome any information from any geographical location. Send us information

The Way It Ought To Be.
May 30th 2000

I just went to see "Small Time Crooks" with my wife and a couple of friends. The theatre, operated by Star Theatres at the Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn, MI, is brand new (just opened this weekend).

Wow! The seating was fantastic! There were several places I could roll into, with companion seating on one side, or both sides of me. There was room for several chairs together, if I'd gone with other Crips. My AB companions said the seats were very comfortable. Incidentally, I checked the restrooms on the way out. Could have been cleaner, but the HC stall was roomy and had lots of grab bars. The major problem was the hand dryers, which were placed over sink counters, and were very hard to reach. --Bear Wheelz

Defending the ADA - and Winning

Texas Civil Rights Project celebrated a significant legal victory over Cinemark Theatres with an El Paso judge's ruling that the stadium-style theatres, dubbed "wheelchair ghettoes" by TCRP legal director Jim Harrington, werein violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The complaint (filed on behalf of eight El Paso residents and two disability rights organizations) centered around the fact that the theatres, which offer steeply sloped seating to walking customers but require wheelchair users to sit directly in front of the screen, did not offer comparable amenities to disabled viewers- one requirement of the ADA. The case, which was scheduled for trial on August 31, was the first of three TCRP cases against Cinemark to be resolved in Texas.

Harrington said that the lawsuit, in which Judge Harry Lee Hudspeth issued a summary judgment requiring Cinemark to negotiate with the plaintiffs about redesigning its theatres, set a major precedent. "It's going to apply to the whole industry," he says. "If you have this one design and the courts say this design is no good, then the whole industry has to change."

Ultimately, Harrington says, the goal is to require all theatre designers to make seating accessible to wheelchair users comparable to that available to walking customers. Already, he says, Regal Theatres, the largest builder of stadium-style theatres nationwide, has begun redesigning its facilities, using ramps or side doors situated at mid-theatre level. "It would be very easy [for Cinemark] to do, but they've never bothered to do it," Harrington says. "Their strategy has been to delay and build - delay the courts and build as many theatres as they can." - E.C.B.  


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- American Multi-Cinema, Inc. and AMC Entertainment, operators of one of the nation's largest chains of movie theaters, were sued today by the Justice Department for not providing stadium style seating to individuals who use wheelchairs.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, alleges that the companies violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by denying movie-goers who use wheelchairs or cannot climb stairs equal access to stadium-style seats. Stadium style seats are seats that are placed on risers to provide unobstructed views with improved viewing angles. Except in AMC's largest auditoriums, patrons cannot access stadium-style seats unless they can climb stairs.

The Justice Department began investigating AMC's stadium style theaters in the Los Angeles area after receiving complaints from persons with disabilities there who were denied access to stadium-style seats in those theaters. The Department negotiated with AMC for seven months in an attempt to resolve this matter short of litigation.

"This is a matter of basic fairness," said Bill Lann Lee, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. "People who use wheelchairs go to the movies, and pay the same prices, as everyone else. They should have access to seats of comparable quality to those available to most other patrons."

AMC and AMC Entertainment introduced stadium-style seating to motion picture theaters in the U.S. and the trend has recently taken over the movie theater industry. In AMC's stadium-style theaters, many seats are stadium-style, which are located on stepped 18-inch risers and provide a comfortable, unobstructed view of the screen over the heads of persons seated in all rows ahead. There are a few rows of seats at the very front of the theater that are accessed by a sloped aisle. Wheelchair seating is located in this front section in all but a handful of the largest auditoriums in AMC's theater megaplexes, which can have as many as 30 auditoriums.

The seating in the front section of the theater is much closer to the large screen and on a lower level than the stadium-style seats and does not provide the same comfortable, unobstructed view of the screen. By placing almost all wheelchair seating locations in the front section of the theater, AMC has denied access to the better seats for all persons whose disabilities prevent them from climbing stairs.

The ADA requires places of public accommodation, such as movie theaters, to provide equal access to persons with disabilities and prevents them from providing persons with disabilities a lower quality of goods and services than they provide other members of the general public.

The complaint specifically names two AMC theaters in the Los Angeles area, the Norwalk theater, located at 12300 E. Civic Center in Norwalk, California, and the Promenade 16 theater, located at 21801 Oxnard Street in Woodland Hills, California, but covers all of AMC and AMC Entertainment's theaters with stadium-style seating nationwide. AMC operates theaters with stadium-style seating in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, and California.

"AMC says it is 'changing the way the world sees movies.' We're just making sure that change complies with the law." added Mr. Lee.

Under the ADA, newly constructed facilities, including motion picture theaters, must be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. In addition to requiring that some seating be made available to individuals who use wheelchairs, the ADA also requires that those wheelchair seating locations provide lines of sight that are "comparable" to the lines of sight provided to other moviegoers. In the new stadium-style theaters operated by AMC and AMC Entertainment, however, the wheelchair seating locations do not provide comparable lines of sight, because they are much closer to the screen with inferior viewing angles than the stadium-style seats.

Today's lawsuit seeks an order requiring AMC to design, construct, and operate its theaters with stadium-style seating so that they comply with all ADA requirements, including the requirement to provide wheelchair seating areas with comparable sightlines. For those facilities that AMC has already built or has under construction, the lawsuit seeks an order requiring AMC to make whatever modifications are necessary to comply with the ADA. The lawsuit also seeks an order requiring AMC to pay damages for patrons with disabilities who have attended movies at AMC theaters and been denied access to stadium-style seats, and to pay civil penalties.

Earlier this year, a federal court in Waco, Texas, ruled that two stadium-style movie theaters in the Cinemark movie theater chain violated the ADA by forcing patrons who use wheelchairs to sit in the front two rows of the theaters in sloped floor seating. That case is currently on appeal. The Department is also investigating other movie theaters and theater chains that do not offer wheelchair locations that provide comparable lines of sight in stadium-style theaters.

Individuals interested in finding out more about the ADA or today's lawsuit can call the Department's toll-free ADA Information Line at (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383/TDD or access the ADA Home Page at ADA Home Page Check here for photos of theatres with Stadium style seating


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