Seats of Discord

Threatened with legal action for telling a handicapped Valley woman that she couldn't get inexpensive wheelchair-accessible seats to an upcoming musical, Arizona State University's Gammage Auditorium officials have changed their tune.

Sherrie Petersen, a local musician, called Gammage several weeks ago to ask about tickets to The Phantom of the Opera, which will play there in December. She wanted inexpensive balcony seats for the show, which cost $20. She was told that, because there is no elevator to the balcony, she would have to purchase $40 or $60 seats on the main floor.

"The box-office person told me that I'd have to take floor seatsand pay more," Petersen says. "She said that ASU doesn't set the ticket prices, and there wasn't anything she could do."

Two days later, after protesting to higher-ups at the auditorium, Petersen was told she could have one seat on thelower floor for $20--but anyone she came to the show with would have to payfull price.

That wasn't good enough for Petersen, who called a lawyer.
Sarah Allen, an attorney with the Arizona Center for Disability Law, says that, under the Americans With Disabilities Act, publicly funded institutions must make handicapped-accessible seating available at all prices, including at least one companion seat.

Unfortunately, hardly anyone seems to know it.
"There does seem to be a lot of ignorance of the law out there, especially among people who work in box offices at auditoriums," Allen says. "Usually, when you tell them that they're breaking the law, though, they come around."

Usually, as in ASU's case. But not always. In April, Allen filed a federal lawsuit against Prescott's Yavapai College on behalf of a woman who was unable to attend a Charlie Pride show in February at the college's Performance Hall. The woman had been protesting to college officials about the accessibility problems since 1992; they did nothing.

Six months after Allen got involved, the college agreed to settle the suit and undertake the renovations necessary to make the hall handicapped accessible.

After a few discussions between Allen and ASU's lawyers, Gammage officials agreed to sell Petersen two seats on the lower level for $20 each. The seats would normally cost $40 each.

No one at Gammage returned calls from New Times.
Allen says the problem is more common than people think: There have been similar dustups recently at Lincoln Center in New York City, and at other performance halls.

"It also happens at sports venues," she says. "Usually, people call and ask if they can get disabled seating, and how much it will cost. They don't usually ask whether they can get accessible seating at a lower price."

Petersen says she usually does exactly that--and takes whatever seating she can find.

"I've even gone to Desert Sky Pavilion and taken seats way back in the grass," she says, "which is fine with me. But I didn't know that they have to make seating available everywhere."

She says the experience with Gammage has been an eye opener.
"I think it's ridiculous to have to go through a lawyer to get tickets," she says. "But I'm glad I know what they have to do now. From now on, I'll be asking about [accessible] seats at different prices.

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Dave Plank