THE COUNSELOR=S CORNER
How far must a movie theater go to provide access for the disabled. According to a recent court decision, movie theater owners must have seating available not just for wheelchair-bound movie goers but for the people who take them to the movies as well. Robin Fortyune suffered a very difficult experience in April of 2002. Mr. Fortyune went to the AMC Rolling Hills 20 Theater in Torrance, California attempting to see a film called AChicken Run.@ Mr. Fortyune is wheelchair-bound and he brought his assistant who is also his wife. They arrived at the theater approximately 20 minutes before the movie was to begin. They bought their tickets and entered the theater and found the two handicapped seats reserved for people in Mr. Fortyune=s situation. Unfortunately, they were occupied by a father and his son. Mr. Fortyune then pointed out to the father and son that these seats were for people who are disabled. Both refused to move indicating that they wanted to sit next to each other. (Can you imagine this happening with handicapped parking? There should be tickets issued to these kinds of people.) Mr. Fortyune then took the next logical step which was to contact the theater manager Jason Kulbel. Mr. Kulbel asked the father and son to vacate their seats. They again refused. Mr. Kulbel then told Mr. Fortyune that he was entitled to one of the seats, however, his companion, who was not disabled, was not. Mr. Fortyune and his wife left the theater in tears as he felt publicly humiliated.
This case then went before United States District Court Judge Nora Manella in Los Angeles, one of the finest and most respected bench officers in Southern California. Judge Manella promptly issued an injunction requiring AMC Theaters to provide priority seating to those who accompany the disabled. Needless to say AMC did not agree and they appealed to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court. Well, AMC lost again as the court found that AMC=s policy pertaining to the companions of the disabled violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. Judge Wardlaw (an appropriately named judge) of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals wrote the opinion stating that AAMC=s stated policy of failing to ensure that a wheelchair-bound patron and his or her companion are seated together has a discriminatory effect in practice.@ Judge Wardlaw speaking for the court ruled that the AMC theaters had the same obligation to keep seats clear for the companions of disabled people as they do to enforce no smoking laws within the theater. The judge=s opinion told AMC to change its policy and adopt one that Aensures companion seating will be made available to the individuals for whom they are designed; the companions of wheelchair-bound patrons.@
This makes sense to me. If the wheelchair-bound person needs someone to push the wheelchair, are you going to have the companion then wait outside until the movie is over? That would not make any sense. In order to accommodate the disabled, all facets of the experience must be contemplated. People who are disabled often need others to help. If the individual in the helper role is not treated appropriately then the individual in the wheelchair is going to be unsuccessful in attending movies, plays, ball games, and everything else he wishes to attend. This decision is inherently reasonable and logical and I hope that AMC gets its act togther and that other movie theaters do the same.