2015 marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Then-president George H.W. Bush signed the act on July 26, 1990, stating that “With today’s signing of the landmark Americans for Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom.”
The ADA changed the venue industry, and its influence is still evolving, affecting everything from logistics and technology to committee planning, and even sparking important litigation.
Kristi Avalos, president and CEO of McKinney, Texas-based accessibility consultancy Accessology, details these changes in a Q&A session, discussing the ADA’s impact on the industry, how venue managers can accommodate, and her belief that its first 25 years are just the beginning.
Facility Manager: How has the ADA changed the venue industry?
Kristi Avalos: The ADA has changed the venue industry significantly. Venue managers never really thought about situations like having a guest with a heart condition in an emergency and how to get them to safety from a balcony seat. Or, what would happen if someone showed up on a Segway, or how to evacuate those with service animals. Now, they not only have to think of the day-to-day challenges, but also the outliers and “what ifs?”
When it comes to large venues, many issues came up because of Hurricane Katrina. One example statistic was that 67 percent of disabled people died because the Red Cross, faced with difficult choices, didn’t know what to do. Should they save one person with 10 (mobility aids) or 10 individuals?
FM: How do you see accessibility evolving over the next 25 years?
KA: I think we are going to see increasing technology requirements for people with sensory impairments.
Also, the ADA originally addressed mobility issues, but going forward, it will address the attitudinal. Some are asking, “Why are we having to spend money on ‘those people’?” But they could be one of “those people” tomorrow! The disability minority doesn’t discriminate. Anyone could join at any time. The future will focus more on awareness, inclusion, and civil rights.
I also predict international growth. The ADA was U.S. based and now is influencing international law to ensure a minimum accessibility standard is met. Currently, at the United Nations level, there is a law in progress that makes it against international law to kill disabled babies, for example.
The ADA is a civil rights law, not a construction law, like a lot of people think it is, and was set up was to be enforced through litigation. We are expecting to see landmark litigation for this landmark year.
Historically, landmark ADA years have been celebrated by filing cases: 600 at the 10-year, and at the 20th anniversary, more than 1,200. Going forward, we are expecting landmark litigation and clarification to gray areas.
FM: How has technology affected accommodations for the ADA?
KA: So much has been affected by technology. For people with hearing impairments, texting was one of the greatest inventions. Texting is a huge thing. Also, closed captioning so that they can follow along with dialogue in movies and plays.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 deals with telecommunication and Web sites. Any venue that receives any type of public funding must have a fully compliant Web site, allowing a blind person to hook up a reader and get the same information as a sighted person would get. Many venues aren’t aware of that. Another big “miss” out there is that venues that receive public funding are required to have a transition plan to bring them into compliance.
Also, any technology you offer must be compliant. This could include ATMs, telephones, listening systems, captioning, and options for the hearing impaired. This really changes everything when it comes to venues and performances.
FM: What are some ways that venue managers can go above and beyond to accommodate people with disabilities?
KA: I highly recommend that venue managers put together a committee of locals with disabilities who frequent their facilities. This is important for three reasons. First, if your venue receives public funds, it’s an ADA Title II requirement that you reach out to the disabled. Also, you’ll get great advice about things that aren’t regulation but are simple things to do that draw positive attention. For example, if a manager is redoing a venue’s flooring, a different texture in front of bathrooms help the blind know they’ve reached the restroom. This is a special touch that is not required, but helps them navigate. Finally, people are a lot less likely to sue later on if they’re part of the process.
For any large venue, including college stadiums where constituents are students, go to a disabled student organization. Ask what can we do better? How does this affect you? What can we do? This type of community engagement goes a long way.
FM: What are some venues that have adapted well to evolving accessibility needs?
KA: There are many great, accessible venues. AT&T Stadium is one example. Dallas’ American Airlines Center is one of the most accessible sporting venues in the country. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Madison Square Garden in New York are other good examples.
FM: What resources are available for venue managers who would like to learn more?
KA: Accessology hosts extensive training, from one hour to three days, and can be tailored to many needs. On the Web, I recommend the Access Board site (www.access-board.gov) and ADA.gov.
Kristi Avalos is a speaker at this year’s Academy for Venue Safety and Security (AVSS) event, where she will lead a seminar titled Introduction to Safety & Security for Persons with Disabilities. Her workshop will cover how to deal with service animals and mobility needs, planning for safety issues, and effectively communicating with people with all types of disabilities. FM