In 1988, when Joseph P. Shapiro was a reporter for U.S. News and World Report, he was asked to write a news story about a gentleman who had won the “Man of the Year” award from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
“They had put him up in a hotel across the street from the club where he was to be feted,” Mr. Shapiro writes. “But getting across the street had been bizarrely difficult. There were no curb cuts at the end of the block, making his hotel a remote island in the middle of Manhattan. Taxicabs could not pick up the man’s heavy battery-powered wheelchair. Buses lacked wheelchair lifts. So the MS Society had hired a van with a special hydraulic lift simply to transport this man across the street.”
Fortunately, that strange street drama is much less likely to happen today, because of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA requires that most newly-constructed and remodeled sidewalks install curb cuts.
But another bizarre situation happened last week, again in Manhattan. As mentioned in my previous post, Ali Stroker won a Tony for her performance in the Broadway revival of Oklahoma. As the first wheelchair user to win a Tony, she represented yet another milestone for people with disabilities.
There are photos of Ms Stroker beaming and waving her award in the air, encouraging other people with disabilities to go after their dreams. But shortly thereafter, the news reported that Ms. Stroker had not been able to accept her award on stage, because there was no ramp going from the audience to the stage level. In addition, she was not able to join the rest of the cast onstage as they collectively accepted the award for Best Broadway Revival.
Does the ADA cover this situation? As with sidewalks, there are numerous accessibility requirements for theaters, but they generally must be undergoing new construction or remodeling for these requirements to kick in. For situations where there is no new construction or remodeling, accommodation must still be made if it is “readily achievable.” “Readily achievable is defined as “not requiring much difficulty or expense.”
We don’t know the difficulties involved in installing a ramp in that particular location, but it seems likely that this would have been readily achievable. That argument is strengthened by the fact that a ramp is specifically listed in the regulations as an example of a readily achievable accommodation.
But maybe the case will never have to be argued. The public reaction to Ms. Stroker’s isolation is probably more powerful than any court ruling would be, and I’m sure the theater will not want this publicity again WHEN the next performer with a disability is up for an award.
For more information about ADA requirements, see https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/2010ADAStandards/Guidance2010ADAstandards.htm#titleIII
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