28 CFR Part 36 Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability by Public Accommodations and in Commercial Facilities (2010 ADA Title III Regulations with amendments issued through Dec. 2016)
Section 36.406(f) Assembly Areas (Section-by-Section Analysis)
In the NPRM, the Department proposed Sec. 36.406(f) to supplement the assembly area requirements of the 2004 ADAAG, which the Department is adopting as part of the 2010 Standards. The NPRM proposed at Sec. 36.406(f)(1) to require wheelchair spaces and companion seating locations to be dispersed to all levels of the facility that are served by an accessible route. The Department received no significant comments on this paragraph and has decided to adopt the proposed language with minor modifications.
Section 36.406(f)(1) ensures that there is greater dispersion of wheelchair spaces and companion seats throughout stadiums, arenas, and grandstands than would otherwise be required by sections 221 and 802 of the 2004 ADAAG. In some cases, the accessible route may not be the same route that other individuals use to reach their seats. For example, if other patrons reach their seats on the field by an inaccessible route (e.g., by stairs), but there is an accessible route that complies with section 206.3 of the 2004 ADAAG that could be connected to seats on the field, wheelchair spaces and companion seats must be placed on the field even if that route is not generally available to the public.
Regulatory language that was included in the 2004 ADAAG advisory, but that did not appear in the NPRM, has been added by the Department in Sec. 36.406(f)(2). Section 36.406(f)(2) now requires an assembly area that has seating encircling, in whole or in part, a field of play or performance area, such as an arena or stadium, to place wheelchair spaces and companion seats around the entire facility. This rule, which is designed to prevent a public accommodation from placing wheelchair spaces and companion seats on one side of the facility only, is consistent with the Department's enforcement practices and reflects its interpretation of section 4.33.3 of the 1991 Standards.
In the NPRM, the Department proposed Sec. 36.406(f)(2), which prohibits wheelchair spaces and companion seating locations from being "located on (or obstructed by) temporary platforms * * *.'' 73 FR 34508, 34557 (June 17, 2008). Through its enforcement actions, the Department discovered that some venues place wheelchair spaces and companion seats on temporary platforms that, when removed, reveal conventional seating underneath, or cover the wheelchair spaces and companion seats with temporary platforms on top of which they place risers of conventional seating. These platforms cover groups of conventional seats and are used to provide groups of wheelchair seats and companion seats.
Several commenters requested an exception to the prohibition of the use of temporary platforms for public accommodations that sell most of their tickets on a season-ticket or other multi-event basis. Such commenters argued that they should be able to use temporary platforms because they know, in advance, that the patrons sitting in certain areas for the whole season do not need wheelchair spaces and companion seats. The Department declines to adopt such an exception. As it explained in detail in the NPRM, the Department believes that permitting the use of movable platforms that seat four or more wheelchair users and their companions have the potential to reduce the number of available wheelchair seating spaces below the level required, thus reducing the opportunities for persons who need accessible seating to have the same choice of ticket prices and amenities that are available to other patrons in the facility. In addition, use of removable platforms may result in instances where last minute requests for wheelchair and companion seating cannot be met because entire sections of accessible seating will be lost when a platform is removed. See 73 FR 34508, 34546 (June 17, 2008). Further, use of temporary platforms allows facilities to limit persons who need accessible seating to certain seating areas, and to relegate accessible seating to less desirable locations. The use of temporary platforms has the effect of neutralizing dispersion and other seating requirements (e.g., line of sight) for wheelchair spaces and companion seats. Cf. Independent Living Resources v. Oregon Arena Corp., 1 F. Supp. 2d 1159, 1171 (D. Or. 1998) (holding that while a public accommodation may "infill'' wheelchair spaces with removable seats when the wheelchair spaces are not needed to accommodate individuals with disabilities, under certain circumstances "[s]uch a practice might well violate the rule that wheelchair spaces must be dispersed throughout the arena in a manner that is roughly proportionate to the overall distribution of seating''). In addition, using temporary platforms to convert unsold wheelchair spaces to conventional seating undermines the flexibility facilities need to accommodate secondary ticket market exchanges as required by Sec. 36.302(f)(7) of the final rule.
As the Department explained in the NPRM, however, this provision was not designed to prohibit temporary seating that increases seating for events (e.g., placing temporary seating on the floor of a basketball court for a concert). Consequently, the final rule, at Sec. 36.406(f)(3), has been amended to clarify that if an entire seating section is on a temporary platform for a particular event, then wheelchair spaces and companion seats may also be in that seating section. However, adding a temporary platform to create wheelchair spaces and companion seats that are otherwise dissimilar from nearby fixed seating and then simply adding a small number of additional seats to the platform would not qualify as an "entire seating section'' on the platform. In addition, Sec. 36.406(f)(3) clarifies that facilities may fill in wheelchair spaces with removable seats when the wheelchair spaces are not needed by persons who use wheelchairs.
The Department has been responsive to assembly areas' concerns about reduced revenues due to unused accessible seating. Accordingly, the Department has reduced scoping requirements significantly—by almost half in large assembly areas—and determined that allowing assembly areas to in-fill unsold wheelchair spaces with readily removable temporary individual seats appropriately balances their economic concerns with the rights of individuals with disabilities. See section 221.1 of the 2010 Standards.
For stadium-style movie theaters, in Sec. 36.406(f)(4) of the NPRM the Department proposed requiring placement of wheelchair seating spaces and companion seats on a riser or cross-aisle in the stadium section of the theater that satisfies at least one of the following criteria: (1) It is located within the rear 60 percent of the seats provided in the auditorium; or (2) It is located within the area of the auditorium where the vertical viewing angles are between the 40th and 100th percentile of vertical viewing angles for all seats in that theater as ranked from the first row (1st percentile) to the back row (100th percentile). The vertical viewing angle is the angle between a horizontal line perpendicular to the seated viewer's eye to the screen and a line from the seated viewer's eye to the top of the screen.
The Department proposed this bright-line rule for two reasons: (1) the movie theater industry petitioned for such a rule; and (2) the Department has acquired expertise in the design of stadium-style theaters during its litigation with several major movie theater chains. See United States. v. AMC Entertainment, Inc., 232 F. Supp.2d 1092 (C.D. Cal. 2002), rev'd in part, 549 F.3d 760 (9th Cir. 2008); United States v. Cinemark USA, Inc., 348 F.3d 569 (6th Cir. 2003). Two industry commenters—at least one of whom otherwise supported this rule—requested that the Department explicitly state that this rule does not apply retroactively to existing theaters. Although this provision on its face applies to new construction and alterations, these commenters were concerned that the rule could be interpreted to apply retroactively because of the Department's statements in the NPRM and ANPRM that this bright line rule, although newly articulated, is not a new standard but "merely codifi[es] longstanding Department requirement[s],'' 73 FR 34508, 34534 (June 17, 2008), and does not represent a "substantive change from the existing line-of-sight requirements'' of section 4.33.3 of the 1991 Standards, 69 FR 58768, 58776 (Sept. 30, 2004).
Although the Department intends for Sec. 36.406(f)(4) of this rule to apply prospectively to new construction and alterations, this rule is not a departure from, and is consistent with, the line-of-sight requirements in the 1991 Standards. The Department has always interpreted the line-of-sight requirements in the 1991 Standards to require viewing angles provided to patrons who use wheelchairs to be comparable to those afforded to other spectators. Section 36.406(f)(4) merely represents the application of these requirements to stadium-style movie theaters.
One commenter from a trade association sought clarification whether Sec. 36.406(f)(4) applies to stadium-style theaters with more than 300 seats, and argued that it should not since dispersion requirements apply in those theaters. The Department declines to limit this rule to stadium-style theaters with 300 or fewer seats; stadium-style theaters of all sizes must comply with this rule. So, for example, stadium-style theaters that must vertically disperse wheelchair spaces and companion seats must do so within the parameters of this rule.
The NPRM included a provision that required assembly areas with more than 5,000 seats to provide at least five wheelchair spaces with at least three companion seats for each of those five wheelchair spaces. The Department agrees with commenters who asserted that group seating is better addressed through ticketing policies rather than design and has deleted that provision from this section of the final rule.