Entertainment lawyers get thrown plenty of diverse matters to deal with but might their practice also include handling concerns about the Americans with Disabilities Act? Don’t bet against it, as a recent case in a U.S. District Court reminds.
In Feldman v. Pro Football, the a U.S. appellate court in Virginia affirmed a ruling by a U.S. District Court in Maryland holding that the FedEx Stadium must provide deaf and hearing-impaired audiences “with the auxiliary aids and services necessary to benefit from the content broadcast over the stadium’s public address [(PA)] system during Washington Redskins home games.” The appellate judges, basing their ruling on Title III of the ADA, “left open to the defendants the choice of which auxiliary aids it would make available.” FedEx Field chose “to provide emailed lyric sheets for songs played over the PA system at Redskin games upon request. Other information is provided via captioning in the stadium.”
Although this case did not directly address them, the ruling could affect theaters, covered under the disabilities act as a “public accommodation,” and the appellate court suggests that “captioning (or some other form of auxiliary aid) is now a requirement, in addition to assistive listening devices for deaf and hearing-impaired” audiences. The option chosen by the Skins’ stadium is impractical for theaters, blogs attorney Gordon P. Firemark, saying “the option of providing a script or libretto to deaf theatre-goers is really not viable, due to copyright and licensing concerns, as well as the fundamental impact that could have on the theatre going experience for both the affected patrons and those around them.”
And lest the Doubting Thomases out there dismiss the possibility that a future patron might pursue an ADA action over the auditory aspect of entertainment, note that the government has looked askance at theaters current provision of “stadium-style” seating and how it affects the sight rights of the disabled; the Justice Department, indeed, has sued American Multi-Cinema Inc. and AMC Entertainment for violating the act “by denying movie-goers who use wheelchairs or cannot climb stairs equal access to stadium-style seats.” Similar lawsuits also were brought against Cinemark USA Inc., Regal Entertainment Group, Regal Cinemas Inc., Hoyts Cinemas Corp. and their affiliates and assigns. Officials argue that disabled audiences, given front row spots, are denied equal access to seats that would give them better views.