Would Your Movie Theater Get an Oscar for Accessibility?

movie theater wheelchair access

Most people know that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires accessibility to public accommodations (such as restaurants, bars and movie theaters). But when you go out to enjoy a movie at your local theater, they must do much more than make sure you can get through the door. Ramps, curb cuts and automatic doors are essential for people in wheelchairs to make it to the ticket counter, but what happens when they get into the theater?

The ADA requires that theaters provide spaces for wheelchairs that have viewing angles within the range offered to the general public, not just an unobstructed view. There have been disagreements between the courts about whether this means wheelchair seats have to be dispersed throughout the theater so that all viewing angles are available, or whether providing a range of viewing angles is acceptable. Grouping all wheelchair-accessible seats at the front of theater with poor viewing angles is forbidden, however. All wheelchair seating areas must also provide one companion seat next to each wheelchair location.

The ADA also provides for assistance for deaf and hard-of-hearing movie patrons. Movie theaters must provide auxiliary aids and services for the hearing impaired so they are able to enjoy their movie experience (as long as it doesn’t result in a “fundamental alteration” of the production). Theaters are not required to provide every possible device, and the ADA does not require open-captioning (that can be viewed by all patrons). However, in 2010, the 9th Circuit Court ruled that closed-captioning would need to be provided by theaters. This ruling would only apply to the region served by the 9th Circuit but will provide precedent for cases in other parts of the country. Hard of hearing patrons may also be provided with devices such as headphones and other listening aides.

If you suspect that your local movie theater is not compliant with the ADA, or have questions about what services they must provide, contact us for more information.