Q. I like movies, but a recent experience at a theater in New Jersey has left me upset. As a paraplegic and wheelchair user, I enjoy the mandated seating for wheelchair users in entertainment venues and have spent hundreds of dollars to watch movies on the big screen. I can transfer to a fixed seat, but prefer to remain seated in my wheelchair.
The release of the latest Jurassic Park movie was shaping up to be exciting, and being able to attend the first showing on the opening day along with other fans promised to make it even better. My problems started when I tried to buy a ticket online — I found that tickets for accessible seating were only available at the theater. When I arrived, a sign stated that tickets were sold out. From past visits, I know that there are about six vacant spaces in scattered locations throughout that theater where wheelchairs can be parked; I doubted that six other people using wheelchairs had arrived before me. I asked if someone could check to see if there were any empty spaces left, and the usher said several of those spaces were still vacant.
At that point I figured it was a simple matter of paying for my ticket and heading inside. Unfortunately, the computerized ticketing system had registered that the theater was full and would not allow a ticket to be issued. The assistant manager in charge of ticketing said she could not override the computer, and her manager did not know how to do that either. I offered to pay cash so I could enter without a ticket in hand, but both managers said it was against company policy.
I finally left, disgusted and embarrassed, since this all took place in front of other moviegoers who were waiting to buy tickets. When I got home I used the template on the theater chain’s corporate website to share my complaint about what happened to me. It has now been well over a month with no response. What else can I do? Is there anyone else who I should be getting involved?
— No Show in N.J.
A. The Americans with Disabilities Act addresses the situation you faced, and the Department of Justice has prepared guidance on ticket sales and priorities. Tickets for accessible seating must be available online if other tickets are sold in that manner. Theaters and similar places of public accommodation are allowed to sell accessible seating to the general public if people with disabilities do not request them, but that does not appear to be the case in this instance. The ADA also requires modifications of policies and procedures if necessary to accommodate people with disabilities, so a violation of the law probably occurred when staff failed to override the computer to allow you to attend the movie. Those managers should have had training that made them aware of how to meet your needs.
You have a couple of strategies you can follow in this situation. You could request a meeting with the theater’s general manager or its ADA coordinator at the national level. If that is unsatisfactory, you may file a complaint with the Department of Justice. You would not need to have an attorney represent you as long as you provided full details along with your complaint.
If you prefer to have an attorney advise or represent you, it may not be necessary to pay for that service. The National Disability Rights Network is the parent agency for a network of nonprofit organizations based in every state; Disability Rights New Jersey covers the Garden State. NDRN’s mission, as stated on their website, is to advise and assist persons with disabilities, family members, attorneys and guardians in obtaining and protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities. It could be worth your time to contact them.
It is also possible to file a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights for a violation of the state’s anti-discrimination statute. Most states have similar laws. In your situation, the complaint would be heard by an administrative law judge who could award damages or assess a statutory penalty against the respondent, and may also award attorney’s fees if you prevail.
Good luck, and thank you for helping to ensure that future visitors to that theater avoid similar problems.