Will Theaters Receive Two Thumbs Up from Individuals with Disabilities? (Issues)

By Huber, Joe | Palaestra, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Will Theaters Receive Two Thumbs Up from Individuals with Disabilities? (Issues)


Huber, Joe, Palaestra


In response to serious competition from cable and satellite television, DVDs, and home theater systems, movie theater chains across the United States are building larger and more lavish theaters. One of the most poplar innovations in this recent development is stadium-style seating (The Boston Globe, December 19, 2000). This feature, along with other amenities, is giving a needed boost to the movie theater industry. To the delight of moviegoers, thousands of such theaters have been and are being built across the country.

Stadium-style seating is based on a tiered seating design. Instead of the gradual, upward slope found in traditional theaters, stadium-style theaters generally have two sections. In the front of the theater is a small, traditionally designed section close to the screen, and behind this area is the much larger stadium-style section.

Stadium-style seating is characterized by steeply banked rows of seats elevated on risers, so that each row is 12 to 18 inches higher than the row in front of it (Boston Sunday Globe, January 7, 2001). This design provides an unobstructed view of the screen. However, given this arrangement, moviegoers are required to climb a series of steep steps to sit in this enhanced viewing area.

The Issue

For the most part, seating for individuals with disabilities in these new theaters is located extremely close to the screen. Although they have paid the same admission price as other patrons, individuals with disabilities feel they are being relegated to the least desirable location for movie viewing. Furthermore, they are often separated from their non-disabled friends who may elect to sit in the stadium section. Because they are being located close to the screen, individuals with disabilities often strain their eyes and must constantly hyperextend their necks during the show.

According to architects representing theater owners, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) actually prompted the new stadium-style theater trend. Multilevel seating, however, is a failed attempt to give every patron an unobstructed view of the screen. Many individuals with disabilities feel the unobstructed view is otherwise compromised by their close proximity to the screen (Paraplegia News, April, 1998). To support this assertion, the Disability Rights Section of the U.S. Department of Justice has received a wave of legal challenges pertaining to this issue. The complaints focus on lack of integrated wheelchair-seating locations throughout the newly designed theaters.

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Will Theaters Receive Two Thumbs Up from Individuals with Disabilities? (Issues)
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