Broadway’s about to get a much needed accessibility upgrade after a settlement was reached in January between the historic Nederlander theater chain and the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Today’s resolution marks the culmination of years of work to ensure that one of New York City’s leading cultural and entertainment treasures — Broadway theater — is accessible to people with disabilities,” said Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Federal authorities sued the Nederlander Organization, which owns nine Broadway theaters, after hundreds of violations to the Americans with Disabilities Act were uncovered. Those nine theaters include the Nederlander, Gershwin, Brooks Atkinson, Lunt Fontanne, Marquis, Minskoff, Neil Simon, Palace and Richard Rodgers.
Under terms of the settlement, the theater operator must add 70 wheelchair accessible seats and 134 aisle transfer seats for patrons who can transfer out of their wheelchair. Nederlander also must improve the accessibility of theater entrances, bathrooms, box offices and concessions. Plus, the organization is required to pay a $45,000 civil penalty.
Sharon Jensen, executive director for Inclusion in the Arts, is pleased with the settlement. “I think this is really terrific and I applaud Nederlander and DOJ for what was, I know, very intense work to get to this point,” she says.
Jensen has seen increased cooperation from theater owners but accessibility issues can be quite complicated. Many older Broadway theaters were built on inclines and thus has limited wheelchair seating to the rear and far sides of the house. Jensen says renovations must be planned carefully because the ability to reconfigure theaters depends on what the architectural footprint will allow.