Providing equal opportunity to people with disabilities is the fundamental principle of the ADA. Over the past 22 years, some public and private venues, ticket sellers, and distributors have not provided the same opportunity to purchase tickets for wheelchair-accessible seats and non-accessible seats. The general public has been able to directly and immediately purchase tickets for non-accessible seats, whether through a venue’s Internet site or its box office, or through a 3rd party Internet based vendor. However, these direct purchase options have simply been unavailable to many individuals with disabilities because transactions frequently could not be completed. Instead the purchaser was directed to send an e-mail or to call a separate telephone number to request tickets and wait for a response.
These burdensome policies still exist, making it difficult or impossible for those who require accessible seats to purchase tickets, especially for popular events that sell out in minutes.
Some of you may recall that back on December 22, 2005, Ticketmaster, Inc., the world’s largest ticketing company, agreed to improve its services for people with disabilities. That agreement, signed with the Dept. of Justice (DOJ), made sure that customers would be able to purchase accessible seating via telephone and email during the entire time period that customers can purchase regular seating through Ticketmaster’s web-based automated system. In addition, all requests for accessible seats were to be queued so that customers would be served on a first-come first-served basis. Although it was still necessary to purchase accessible seats through sales agents rather than on-line, these steps ensured a fairer ticketing process until Ticketmaster’s web-based system was redesigned and able to process customer requests for accessible seating. In that settlement agreement, Ticketmaster vowed to also continue its efforts to develop a system to sell accessible seating directly on its web site.
Jump forward to 2011. As of March 15, 2011, venues that sell tickets for assigned seats must implement policies to comply with the new ticketing requirements that apply to selling tickets for assigned seats at events such as concerts, plays, and sporting events. The requirements apply to tickets sold for single events and those sold for a series of events (e.g., subscriptions or season tickets). A summary of these updated ticketing requirements can be found on the DOJ’s website at www.ada.gov/ticketing_2010.pdf.
In this age of technology, there's no reason why wheelchair users shouldn't enjoy the same privileges as everyone else when it comes to purchasing tickets. After all, most of us have the luxury of getting online and looking at exactly where we want to sit, buying our tickets, and printing them the same day.
On Friday, July 27th, fraught with frustration, wheelchair user John Whitbread filed a lawsuit against Ticketmaster, Los Angeles County, and Los Angeles Philharmonic Association (which owns the Hollywood Bowl), alleging that Ticketmaster doesn't let users purchase wheelchair accessible tickets directly online. Instead, a person must file a request for wheelchair accessible seats and wait for a phone call to purchase tickets, which Whitbread alleges happened to him when he tried to buy tickets for a concert, Journey. Whitbread isn't seeking damages. He just wants "to change the policy so that he and others, who want to go to a concert, can access those tickets the same way folks who don't use wheelchairs can."
Over the past 22 years, the DOJ has settled numerous ticketing-related discrimination allegations against such notable venues as The Washington Opera, NYC’s Madison Square Garden, Radio City, Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Hotel and countless University Football Stadiums, to name a few.
While you may have policies in place and staff trained to sell tickets over the phone and in person at the Box Office, are you ready to sell accessible seats on the Internet? Selling accessible tickets online impacts everything from your ticketing policies to your website. A critical and often overlooked component of ensuring successful compliance is comprehensive and ongoing staff training. You may have established good policies, but if your staff are not aware of them or do not know how to implement them, problems can arise. Venues of all sizes are strongly encouraged to educate venue managers, box office staff, individuals answering phones or responding to Internet inquiries, and any other staff involved in ticket sales about the ADA’s requirements. Other paid or volunteer staff who interacts with the public (e.g., ushers, event security) should also be trained. Ticket distributors and third-party ticket vendors are also strongly encouraged to provide ongoing training to their staff about these requirements.
Do you know what accessible seating is? Do you know who can purchase accessible seating and how to prevent fraud? Do you know what to do if you have multiple prices in one section of the theater but the accessible locations are only in one area? If you’re not sure where to begin, contact Springboard Consulting at 973-813-7260 or http://www.consultspringboard.com. Expert staff can provide you with the practical information and tools you need to provide equal opportunity to people with disabilities who are eager to use your goods and services.
This information should not be construed as “legal advice” for a particular set of facts or circumstances. It is intended only to be a practical guide for participants familiar with this subject. Users should seek appropriate legal advice tailored to address their specific situation.