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36 CFR Parts 1190 and 1191 ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines - Preamble (Discussion of Comments and Changes)

221 Assembly Areas

Provisions in section 221 for accessible assembly areas cover general scoping (221.1), wheelchair spaces (221.2), companion seats (221.3), aisle seating (221.4), and new provisions for lawn seating (221.5).

Section 221.1 contains a general charging statement that assembly areas provide wheelchair spaces, companion seats, and designated aisle seats. The proposed rule contained a similar statement that provided an illustrative list of assembly areas covered by this section, such as motion picture houses, theaters, stadiums, arenas, concert halls, courtrooms, and others. This list has been incorporated into the definition of "assembly area" in section 106.5.

Section 221.2 covers the required number, integration, and dispersion of wheelchair spaces. The minimum number of wheelchair spaces is specified according to the total number of seats provided in an assembly area (Table

This requirement applies to seating generally, as well as luxury boxes, club boxes, suites, and other types of boxes. Substantive changes made in the final rule include:

  • limiting the requirements for wheelchair spaces to assembly areas with fixed seating (221.2)
  • lowering scoping for assembly areas with over 500 seats (Table
  • adding a new provision for box seating (
  • clarifying requirements for integration of wheelchair spaces (221.2.2)
  • revising and relocating dispersion requirements for wheelchair spaces (221.2.3)
  • modifying provisions for companion seating (221.3) and designated aisle seating (221.4)
  • adding a new provision for lawn seating (221.5)
  • removing a specification concerning vertical access (221.5 in the proposed rule)

The Board has clarified in the final rule that wheelchair spaces are required in assembly areas with "fixed seating." This is consistent with the original ADAAG, but not the proposed rule, which did not specify that seating had to be fixed. This descriptor was restored because it is fixed seating that typically defines wheelchair spaces as a permanent feature, consistent with the scope of these guidelines.

Comment. The minimum number of wheelchair spaces is specified according to a sliding scale. A lower percentage is specified for larger facilities. The proposed rule specified 1% scoping (on top of 6 required wheelchair spaces) for assembly areas with over 500 seats. Comments from industry recommended that scoping should be lowered for larger facilities since industry surveys indicate that the vast majority of wheelchair spaces, particularly in stadiums and arenas, often go unused. A coalition representing major sports leagues, teams, and facilities throughout the U.S. conducted a two-year survey of usage of wheelchair spaces at 40 major arenas and stadiums during basketball, hockey, and baseball events. This survey found that of the 1% of seats made accessible in arenas, approximately 12% (0.12% of the total number of seats) were occupied by persons using wheelchairs; the assessed usage rate at baseball stadiums was 7% of the accessible seats (0.07% of the total number of seats). The coalition considered the 1% minimum scoping far in excess of the demonstrated need in large sports arenas. These and other industry comments urged the Board to reduce the required number to at least the amount recommended by the ADAAG Review Advisory Committee. The advisory committee had recommended a 0.5% scoping requirement for assembly areas with over 500 seats based on similar information concerning usage. Industry comments considered 0.5% as more than adequate in meeting the demand for accessible seating.

Response. The Board has reduced the scoping for wheelchair spaces in assembly areas with more than 500 seats. Scoping has been reduced from 1% to a ratio of 1 wheelchair space for every 150 seats in assembly areas with 501 to 5,000 seats. This is required on top of a requirement of six wheelchair spaces, consistent with the scoping count for the first 500 seats. A further reduction to 0.5% scoping, the level recommended by the ADAAG Review Advisory Committee, is specified for assembly areas with over 5,000 seats. The 0.5% scoping requirement is applied on top of a requirement for 36 spaces, which follows the scoping level for the first 5,000 seats. For example, in assembly facilities with 5,000 seats, the final rule requires that at least 36 spaces be accessible, whereas the scoping in the proposed rule would have specified 51 spaces minimum. The minimum number for facilities with 10,000 seats is 61 (reduced from 101), and for those with 50,000 seats is 261 (reduced from 501).

Comment. In certain performing arts facilities, seating may be provided in tiered boxes for spatial and acoustical purposes. Often, steps are located on the route to these boxes. The proposed rule was not clear on how the scoping and dispersion requirements would apply in these types of facilities. Comments noted that requiring accessible routes to all boxes would fundamentally affect this type of design and recommended that an exception be made for such venues.

Response. Wheelchair spaces are required to be provided in each luxury box, club box, and suite according to a scoping table ( The Board has clarified in the final rule that this requirement applies where such boxes and suites are provided in "arenas, stadiums, and grandstands." A new provision has been added for other types of assembly facilities, such as certain performing arts facilities, that may have tiered box seating ( Under this provision, wheelchair spaces are determined according to the total number of fixed box seats and are required to be dispersed among at least 20% of the boxes. For example, if an assembly area has 20 boxes with five fixed seats each (totaling 100 seats), at least four wheelchair spaces would be required according to the scoping table. These four wheelchair spaces would have to be dispersed among at least four (20%) of the 20 boxes. This requirement clarifies that each box does not have to be treated separately as a discreet assembly facility individually subject to the scoping table, as is the case with luxury boxes and club boxes.

A provision for team and player seating areas is included in the final rule ( This provision, which derives from the Board’s guidelines for recreation facilities, requires at least one wheelchair space in team or player seating areas serving areas of sports activity. An exception is provided for seating areas serving bowling lanes.

Under section 221.2.2, wheelchair spaces must be integrated throughout seating areas. In the final rule, the Board has clarified this requirement to state that wheelchair spaces "shall be an integral part of the seating plan."

The original ADAAG required that wheelchair spaces be provided so that users are afforded a choice in sight lines that is comparable to that of the general public. Thus, while individuals who use wheelchairs need not be provided with the best seats in an assembly area, neither may they be relegated to the worst. In this rulemaking, the Board has sought to clarify specifications for lines of sight from wheelchair spaces. Specifically, the final rule clearly recognizes that viewing angles are essential components of lines of sight and that various factors, such as the distance from performance areas and the location of wheelchair spaces within a row, also greatly determine the quality of sight lines.

Section 221.2.3 covers dispersion of wheelchair spaces and lines of sight. Wheelchair spaces are required to be dispersed to provide users with choices of seating locations and viewing angles substantially equal to or better than the choices afforded all other spectators. Spaces must be dispersed horizontally and vertically. Horizontal dispersion pertains to the lateral, or side to side, location of spaces relative to the ends of rows. Provisions for vertical dispersion address the placement of wheelchair spaces at varying distances front to back from the performance area, screen, or playing field. Exceptions from the dispersion requirements are provided for assembly areas with 300 seats or less. In addition, an exception from the lines of sight and dispersion requirements is provided for wheelchair spaces in team or player seating areas serving areas of sports activity. Various changes have been made to the requirements for dispersion based on comments and responses to a number of questions posed by the Board in the proposed rule. The specifications of section 221.2.3 replace those in the proposed rule that were included in the technical criteria for wheelchair spaces at section 802.6.

In the final rule, the Board has added exceptions to the requirement for horizontal dispersion. Horizontal dispersion is not required in assembly areas with 300 seats or less where wheelchair spaces and companion seats are provided in the center sections of a row (the second or third quartile) instead of at the ends (, Exception 1). This exception derives from the ANSI A117.1‒2003 standard and recognizes that viewing angles at the mid-sections of rows are generally better than those at the ends of rows. In addition, the Board has clarified that two wheelchair spaces can be paired, but each must have a companion seat, as required by 221.3 (, Exception 2). This exception applies to all assembly areas, not just those with 300 or fewer seats.

Assembly areas with 300 or fewer seats are not required to have vertically dispersed wheelchair spaces so long as the spaces provide viewing angles that are equal to or better than the average viewing angle (, Exception 1). An exception from the vertical dispersion requirement is provided for bleachers which allows spaces to be provided only in the point of entry (, Exception 2).

Comment. The proposed rule required dispersion that provides "a choice of admission prices ... comparable to that provided to other spectators." Comments from designers indicated that the admission price criterion is problematic since prices are not typically known in the design and construction phase. Accommodating choice in admission price is more realistically addressed as an operational matter by facility operators and managers.

Response. The Board believes that the dispersion requirement pertaining to admission prices is better addressed by regulations, such as those maintained by the Department of Justice under the ADA, that govern policies and procedures, instead of by these design guidelines. The reference to admission prices has been removed from the requirement for dispersion.

Comment. The proposed rule also addressed dispersion in terms of sight lines and required "a choice of ... viewing angles comparable to that provided to other spectators." This provision was intended to clarify a requirement in the original ADAAG that wheelchair spaces provide a choice in lines of sight comparable to those available to the general public. The Board questioned whether this restatement was sufficient and sought comment on whether this provision should be enhanced to require "lines of sight equivalent to or better than" those afforded the majority of other spectators in the same seating class or category (Question 43). Disability groups and persons with disabilities strongly favored such a change to ensure equivalency in the viewing experience. According to these comments, the proposed rule would permit location of wheelchair spaces in a manner that compromises the quality of viewing angles. Industry opposed holding wheelchair spaces to a higher standard in terms of the quality of viewing angles. Such commenters pointed to practical complications in comparing viewing angles between wheelchair spaces and inaccessible seating.

Response. The Board has revised the specification for dispersion so that persons using wheelchair spaces are provided "choices of seating locations and viewing angles that are substantially equivalent to, or better than, the choices of seating locations and viewing angles available to all other spectators" (221.2.3). This provision ensures equivalency in the range of viewing angles provided between wheelchair seating and all other seats. It recognizes, but does not mandate, a better range of viewing angles for the users of wheelchair spaces.

Comment. The proposed rule, like the original ADAAG, required dispersion of wheelchair spaces in assembly areas with more than 300 seats. The Board sought comment on whether this trigger should be lowered so that dispersion would be provided in smaller assembly spaces (Question 42). The Board was concerned about the possible impacts of such a change on certain assembly types, such as stadium-style cinemas, and sought further information on their design, including the average number of seats provided per screen. Designers and operators of all types of assembly facilities were encouraged to comment on the impact of reducing the triggering point from 300 to 250, 200, or 150 seats. Quality sight lines in facilities where dispersion may not be required, such as stadium-style theaters, was a primary concern voiced by commenters with disabilities. The majority of comments recommended lowering the threshold for dispersion requirements, though there was little consensus on a specific alternative number.

Response. The point at which dispersion is required (over 300 seats) has been retained in the final rule. Dispersion is not required in assembly areas with 300 or fewer seats provided that certain conditions concerning viewing angles are met. These conditions are specified in relation to horizontal and vertical dispersion.

Comment. In smaller facilities where dispersion of wheelchair spaces is not required (i.e., those with no more than 300 seats), the placement of the wheelchair spaces in relation to other seating acquires greater significance because wheelchair users are not offered a choice of viewing angles. Therefore, in order to ensure equal opportunity for people who use wheelchairs in assembly areas in which dispersion is not required, wheelchair spaces must provide lines of sight that are comparable to those provided for most of the other patrons in the assembly area. The Board sought comment on whether this requirement, specific to facilities where dispersion is not mandated, should require lines of sight from wheelchair spaces that are equivalent to or better than the line of sight provided for the majority of event spectators (Question 44). Persons with disabilities and organizations representing them unanimously backed this provision. The issue was considered particularly relevant in stadium-style seating and other smaller assembly areas where, despite the requirements for comparable lines of sight in the original ADAAG, wheelchair spaces are typically located only in the front or back rows.

Response. The final rule makes the provision of equivalent lines of site a specific condition for not having to disperse wheelchair spaces in assembly areas with 300 or fewer seats. Wheelchair spaces do not have to be dispersed vertically (i.e., front to back), so long as the viewing angle from them is equal to, or better than, the average viewing angle provided in the facility ( Wheelchair spaces and companion seats do not have to be dispersed horizontally (i.e., side to side) if they are located in the mid-sections of rows (second or third quartile of the total row length) instead of at or near the ends of rows ( This condition for horizontal dispersion is required to the extent that the mid-section row is long enough to accommodate the requisite number of wheelchair spaces and companion seats; if it is not, some may be located beyond the mid-section portion (in the first or fourth quartile of the total row length).

Comment. The proposed rule specified vertical dispersion so that wheelchair spaces are located at "varying distances" from the performing area (802.6.3). Comment was sought on whether the term "varying distances" provides sufficient guidance in achieving dispersion (Question 41). The Board asked whether a minimum separation between horizontal rows should be specified. Most comments, including those from individuals with disabilities and from industry, considered this term too vague and supported a more specific or quantifiable requirement. Few specific alternatives to this language were recommended.

Response. The Board has retained the reference to "varying distances" in the final rule ( Since the requirement applies to a wide variety of assembly facilities of different sizes and designs, the Board does not consider it practical to specify a particular vertical separation or distance requirement. Meeting the requirement for vertical dispersion is highly relevant to the size of the facility, the range of sight lines available, elevation changes, and other design characteristics. Clarification has been added that the dispersion requirement pertains to the distance from the "screen, performance area, or playing field." The proposed rule made reference only to performance areas. This revision clarifies coverage of elements and events, such as movie screens and sporting events.

Comment. The proposed rule reflected the importance of providing individuals with disabilities with selections from a variety of vantage points to enjoy performances and sporting events. The Board requested comment on whether there are conditions where vertical (i.e., front to back) separation between wheelchair spaces is not desirable and if there is a point at which increased distance fails to improve accessibility or to contribute significantly to equal opportunity (Question 40). Of the few comments which addressed this question, the majority called attention to the importance of vertical dispersion in providing equivalency in the quality of the viewing experience. Some comments considered adequate integration of wheelchair spaces to be equally important or expressed concern about vertical separation that results in longer travel distances from restrooms, concessions, and other amenities.

Response. The Board has not included any new conditional limitations on the requirements for vertical dispersion of wheelchair seating in achieving appropriate viewing angles (other than an exception for bleacher seating).

Comment. Bleacher manufacturers requested clarification on how dispersion requirements would apply to bleachers, which have been interpreted as exempt under original ADAAG specifications.

Response. The final rule includes an exception for bleacher seating that allows spaces to be provided in the point of entry only (, Exception 2). An advisory note clarifies that "points of entry" at bleachers may include cross aisles, concourses, vomitories, and entrance ramps and stairs.

Comment. In costing out changes made in the proposed rule, the Board estimated that vertical dispersion requirements could cost as much as $11 million for each "large" (50,000 seats) stadium or arena to provide vertical dispersion in uppermost decks. According to the Board’s regulatory assessment, "in order to accommodate the additional dispersion required by this item, it is assumed that an upper deck concourse will be required for the facility. These large facilities generally have a lower deck, a middle deck (with suites and/or club level amenities), and an upper deck. The steep slopes used in the upper deck make it impractical to accommodate accessible routes with more than a minimal change in level up or down from the vomitory access point within the seating bowl. The dispersion requirement based on admission pricing and the vertical dispersion requirement will generally require that a more substantial change in level be accommodated outside the seating bowl for the upper deck area. It is assumed that an additional concourse, of 50,000 square feet in area, will be used to provide access to the upper deck at an additional level." The Board sought information on alternatives to constructing a secondary concourse that would provide vertical dispersion in upper decks of larger stadiums (Question 39). Few comments or suggested alternatives were provided in response. A few comments stressed the importance of vertical dispersion, while others felt it was necessary to weigh such requirements against the possible design and cost impacts.

Response. The Board has retained requirements for vertical dispersion that are substantively similar to the specifications in the proposed rule. However, as noted above, the final rule does not require wheelchair spaces to be dispersed based on admission prices since pricing is not always established at the design phase and may vary by event. Instead of requiring wheelchair spaces to be vertically dispersed on each accessible level, the final guidelines require wheelchair spaces to be vertically dispersed at varying distances from the screen, performance area, or playing field. The final guidelines also require wheelchair spaces to be located in each balcony or mezzanine served by an accessible route. In most sports facilities, these requirements can be met by locating some wheelchair spaces on each accessible level of the sports facility.

Comment. The proposed rule contained a requirement that where elevators or wheelchair lifts are provided on an accessible route to wheelchair spaces or designated aisle seats, they shall be provided in "such number, capacity, and speed" in order to provide a level of service equivalent to that provided in the same seating area to patrons who can use stairs or other means of vertical access (221.5 in the proposed rule). This requirement was included to ensure an equal level of convenience between accessible seating and inaccessible seating in terms of travel between the entry gate and seats or between the seats and concession stands. Most commenters did not support this requirement, and considered it unenforceable and confusing. Some commenters misunderstood the intent of this provision and thought it pertained specifically to egress routes.

Response. The Board has removed the requirement concerning the number, capacity, and speed of elevators and wheelchair lifts in providing an equivalent level of service.

Section 221.3 covers companion seats which are to be paired with wheelchair spaces. The proposed rule specified that companion seats be readily removable so as to provide additional space for a wheelchair. In the final rule, companion seats are permitted to be movable. Thus, they are not required to double as an alternative wheelchair space.

Comment. The Board sought information on the impact of the requirement that each wheelchair space have an adjacent companion seat that can be removed to provide an adjoining wheelchair space (Question 10). Comments noted that this requirement effectively doubles the scoping requirements for wheelchair spaces and that the required extra space would significantly increase construction costs. Several comments noted that more flexibility for both wheelchair spectators and the facility could be achieved by allowing companion seats to be movable; however, comments noted that some building codes may require companion seats to be fixed. Another solution put forward was the use of seating that folded and swung away, leaving enough space for a wheelchair position.

Response. The final rule requires one companion seat for each wheelchair space, but allows the seat to be movable. This seat is not required to provide an additional wheelchair space when removed.

Comment. In the belief that readily removable seats should provide a companion with virtually the same experience in terms of comfort and usability as other fixed seats, the Board asked what specific characteristics they should have relative to other seats (Question 11). The majority of comments strongly favored requirements for companion seats to be equivalent or comparable to other provided seating in the same assembly area.

Response. The Board has included technical criteria for companion seats that requires them to be equivalent to other seats in the immediate area in terms of quality, size, comfort, and amenities (802.3).

Section 221.4 addresses designated aisle seats. The Board has significantly lowered the number of designated aisle seats required to be accessible. An exception from the requirement for designated aisle seats for team or player seating areas serving areas of sports activity has been incorporated into the final rule from the guidelines for recreation facilities.

Comment. The proposed rule specified that 1% of all seats be designated aisle seats, a quarter of which were to be located on accessible routes and the rest not more than 2 rows from an accessible route. The Board requested information on the cost and related design impacts of this requirement, particularly in locating aisle seats at or no more than two rows from an accessible route (Question 12). Comments stated that requiring designated aisle seats to be on an accessible route would require more space and entrances to seating areas and would result in the loss of seating space. Comments further stated that this would require a significant increase in the cost of such facilities.

Response. The Board has reduced the overall scoping for designated aisle seats. The final rule requires that 5% of aisle seats, not all seats, be designated aisle seats. These seats are required to be those closest to, but not necessarily on, an accessible route. Technical requirements for aisle seats at 802.4 have also been modified.

Section 221.5 provides a new requirement that addresses lawn seating and exterior overflow areas. Such areas are required to be connected by an accessible route. The accessible route is required to extend up to, but not through, lawn seating areas. Since such areas typically do not provide fixed seating, this provision does not require wheelchair spaces, companion seats, or designated aisle seats.

Comment. Where public address systems are provided in transportation facilities to convey public information, a means of conveying the same or equivalent information to persons who are deaf or hard of hearing is required. In the proposed rule, the Board sought comment on whether additional provisions for an equivalent means of communication should be applied to other types of facilities (Question 45). The Board was specifically interested in how captioning can be associated with electronic scoreboards in stadiums to convey audible public announcements. People who are deaf or heard [sic] of hearing strongly urged that requirements for access to information conveyed through public address systems be applied to all types of facilities, not just transportation facilities.

Response. The Board considered adding a provision (included in the draft final rule) that would have required the visual display of audible pre-recorded or real-time messages where electronic signs are provided in stadiums, arenas, or grandstands. This provision would not have required provision of electronic signs, but instead would have specified that, where provided, they be used to display information to deaf or hard-of-hearing spectators provided audibly during an event. Since this requirement would have been more pertinent to facility operations than to facility design, the Board did not include it in the final rule. Providing "effective communications" is within the purview of the Department of Justice and is addressed in the Department’s title II and III regulations. See 28 CFR 35.160 and 28 CFR 36.203(c).


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