Palladium works out kinks in accessible seating

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The staff at the Palladium in Carmel will receive more training on how to accommodate people with disabilities after a would-be concertgoer said she was denied a pair of $20 tickets.

About 12 percent of the Palladium’s 1,600 seats are wheelchair-accessible, so the 6-month-old venue far exceeds Americans with Disabilities Act requirements in that regard. The Palladium also says accessible seating is available at every price point.

But Cara Jean Wahlers put that claim to the test when she inquired about a pair of $20 tickets for herself and her boyfriend, John Marcy, who has multiple sclerosis and often uses a wheelchair. The $20 seats were offered online to the general public for the July 13 Emmylou Harris concert.

Wahlers, who complained on her Facebook page, said the Palladium’s ticketing agent told her accessible seats for that particular concert cost $50 apiece, and that was her only option. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act specifies that at least some tickets for accessible seats must be made available at all price levels. That means the least expensive ticket price for an event available to the general public also has to be available to a person with a disability, even if the venue is forced to put the person with disability in a higher-priced seating section.

Wahlers didn’t pursue a complaint with the Palladium’s management, but after learning more about ADA rules, she said she’ll be watching the Palladium’s practices. She’s hoping to attend a Chris Issack concert in December. “If they do the same thing, I’ll make a huge issue out of it,” she said.

The fact that the state-of-the-art concert hall in Carmel even had seats at $20 came as a surprise to Greg Fehribach, an Indianapolis attorney who represents the Center for the Performing Arts, home of the Palladium, on ADA topics. A wheelchair user himself, he consults on design and staff training for a number of venues, including Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Palladium’s $20 seats are located behind the stage and they go on sale only with the artist’s permission. “They don’t have a protocol for these $20 seats because they’re not necessarily available,” Fehribach said.

The Palladium has accommodated at least one person, who used a scooter but was able to stand and move into the behind-stage section, Fehribach said. The staff is still trying to figure out where to seat people whose disabilities prevent them from standing, he said.

In the meantime, Fehribach said he’ll be training the Palladium staff on the rules about accommodation. “The Palladium’s learning it,” he said.

He added, “When you’re a wheelchair user or friend of a wheelchair user, you’ve always got to ask the next question: ‘What do you have to accommodate me?’”

People with disabilities have run up against a lack of accomodation at most every entertainment venue in town, said Melissa Madill, executive director of AccessAbility, an advocacy and assistance organization.

Shows at the Egyptian Room at the Murat and the Vogue in Broad Ripple are usually general-admission with minimal seating, and Madill said her staff has advocated for people who simply needed a chair.

"We run into this kind of stuff all the time," Madill said. "There's a lot of venues, bars and that sort of thing that just don't meet access requirements."

Accommodation is about to become even trickier. Venues have until March 15, 2012, to comply with new ADA regulations regarding online ticketing. The change is expected to make it easier to select and buy accessible seats online, rather than having to call a box office for help.

Elise Kushigian, executive director of Clowes Memorial Hall at Butler University, said she’s worried that online systems won’t convey all the nuances of the hall that opened in 1963.

Clowes and most other venues rely on Ticketmaster for online sales, while the Center for the Performing Arts devised its own ticketing system.

Clowes has no center aisle, so accessible seating is off to the sides. The box-office staff recommends box seating for better views, Kushigian said, but there are caveats. If the person who needs an accessible seat is a woman, she’ll want to be on the left side of the hall for easier access to the bathroom. A man would want to be on the right.

“That’s why we like to be able to talk to people and explain the uniqueness,” Kushigian said.

The Clowes staff will attend a couple of training sessions about the online changes in the next nine months. “We’ve just got lists of questions,” Kushigian said.

Another older venue, Hilbert Circle Theatre, has 48 wheelchair-accessible seats in the boxes at the back of the main floor. “Acoustically and visually, this section is one of the best areas in the theater,” said Jessica DiSanto, spokeswoman for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, which owns the theater.

The ISO puts a number of seats in that section on hold for people with mobility issues and offers them at the lowest ticket price, she said.

Hilbert Circle, built in 1916, has received a number of ADA exemptions because of its historic nature, DiSanto said, but it would be brought to current standards if it were renovated in the future.

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