Editor's note: Thank you to David Ferleger for sharing this important blog that originally appeared at ada-law.blogspot.com.
If I love music and use a wheelchair, the concert hall should have space for me to sit. If I love sports, the ballpark or arena will have space set aside for wheelchair users. If I am an amputee or on crutches, I’ll be able to drive up close to the venue so I can enter without much inconvenience.
But suppose I have tickets to a music or other festival, or other outdoor event, where the main stage, the main action, is distant from the satellite parking lots. Suppose I want to attend a public concert in Central Park NYC or another large urban event when streets are closed to traffic for many blocks in all directions. There may be shuttles but not handicap-accessible vehicles. There may be some reserved handicap parking spaces, but not enough.
After recounting the challenge of individuals with mobility disabilities in accessing large outdoor venues, I argue that a) the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that, if a venue offers shuttle service to the non-disabled, then people with disabilities must be provided accessible transportation from parking lots to main stage, and b) regardless of what is offered to the non-disabled, a venue must provide accessible transportation as an accommodation under the ADA.
Beyond the scope of this analysis, but subject to the same principles, is access for disabled musicians, access to multi-location events, access to beaches and parks and mountain areas, and the like.
Festival Access: The Experience
Access to outdoor venues is very much a live issue among people with disabilities. A concert goer with cerebral palsy explained it is important to her that she is provided equal access to entertainment venues because, “there’s no replacement for the unparalleled rush of emotional energy that comes from seeing an amazing concert. This enjoyment shouldn’t be something limited to those who can stay on their feet for hours on end.”
Sean Gray, a 32 year old with cerebral palsy, explains disability discrimination at music venues to be, “no different than any other kind of oppression.” Gray pointedly questioned: "What if you're not allowed to go to a venue because you're gay or a person of color? That's what this feels like. Part of the reason show-goers don’t see people with disabilities at shows is partly due to the fact that our needs aren’t being met in terms of accessibility. It’s not because we don’t exist, it’s because how can we go somewhere that we can’t access?"
In order to combat this discrimination, Gray created a website called, Is This Venue Accessible?, that allows users to write reviews on the accessibility of venues in cities across the country.
The ADA and Large Outdoor Music and Other Venues
What access is guaranteed by the Americans with Disabilities Act to such large outside venues? There is no doubt that festival venues must comply with the ADA. 42 U.S.C. §12181(7)(C) (“concert hall, stadium, or other place of exhibition or entertainment), (D) (“convention center. . . or other place of public gathering”), (I) (“a park, zoo, amusement park, or other place of recreation”). For convenience, let’s call them ‘festival venues’ although they include non-festivals.
In many cases, festival venues provide shuttles to and from parking lots for people without disabilities. Shuttle vans and buses in this situation are typically not handicap accessible. Should wheelchair accessible transportation be provided so that people with disabilities have the same access as the non-disabled? I conclude that festival venues required to provide special transportation services for people with mobility disabilities as an accommodation under the ADA? The general ADA Title III anti-discrimination rule applies–click here to read my complete analysis.
The solution required by the ADA, I believe, is to ensure that individuals who are mobility-disabled and those who are not disabled both have access to the festival venue and, therefore, if transportation is provided for the non-disabled, accessible transportation must be provided for people with mobility disabilities. Whether the festival venue is owned or rented by the event producer does not matter; both are responsible for ensuring access. Click here to read my analysis of how to achieve this goal.
An accessible venue
Luckily, some festivals are taking initiative on their own in order to make music venues more accessible for individuals with disabilities. Kevin Lyman, the founder of Warped Tour explains that it is not that complicated for venues and festivals to comply with the ADA’s access regulations. Lyman explained, "When you’re at a big festival for three days, you have time to build it. Warped is on the move all the time. Some of the venues are really great; those amphitheaters work really well. But if we’re in a field, we’re going to put more plywood down so a wheelchair can roll on it. We’ll have a list of access to more things if we need them; we rent them locally.
That festival producer has added new accessibility features this year including private, accessible bathrooms to keep those with physical challenges clean and comfortable. This new addition is one that may usher in others, given the tour’s constant need to accommodate varying locations and vendors.
Attorney David Fergler specializes in disability law and has extensive experience before the United States Supreme Court. He can be reached through his web site or email email@example.com. David and his family are active members of the Jewish community in Northwest Philadelphia.