Leadership / 09.17.18
5 Simple Ways to Make Your Venue More Accessible
With the population becoming increasingly diverse, venue operators are doing a better job making everything from concerts to sporting events and trade shows more accessible. There is nothing worse than getting excited about an event, only to find that it’s not possible for a person to attend. In fact, more and more arenas, concert halls, theatres and convention centers are touting the strides they've made in opening shows, performances and other gatherings up to the widest range of people possible.
One person with experience in this area is Joan Sullivan, a consultant for FutureTix who previously served as a vice president in the facilities division at Madison Square Garden (MSG). In that position, she helmed sales, services and programs for people with disabilities; oversaw ADA compliance across all of the company venues; and played a key role in the renovation of the MSG Arena and the opening of the LA Forum. Prior to that, she served as Senior Director of Ticket Operations for the New York Mets and "spent some time internationally with the Olympic Games in Sydney, Beijing and London."
As accessibility is an increasingly important topic for ticketing professionals in all industries, Access sat down with Sullivan to chat about key tactics that any venue operator can employ to improve accessibility in their space:
1) Have a Plan
"Whether for the run of a show or a one-off special event," Sullivan advised, "create an 'Accessibility Checklist.' This way, production knows what is required, the promoter can get on the same page, ticketing is up to speed, etc." This means not only having a plan but also ensuring it’s properly communicated to key stakeholders, and everyone has appropriate information on how to execute it properly.
2) Improve Communications
In this regard, questions to be asked range from "Does the community know what services you offer [for people with disabilities] and where to buy tickets?" to "Is it easy for them to attend a performance?" to "Is there appropriate visibility around accessibility at your venue?" Sullivan further urges not to shy away from community engagement. "Use this to draw positive attention to your teams/shows," she said. "Focus groups, as much as they can be a pain, offer valuable feedback." She also recommends partnering with such local groups as Autism Speaks, the Theater Development Fund (TDF) and United Spinal.
3) Staff Training
Sullivan says she can’t stress this enough: "I’m not saying an usher or ticket seller needs to study all the Title III statutes pertaining to public accommodation,” she began. “However, it is easy to raise awareness via training sessions that cover simple items such as: sensitive versus insensitive words, how to provide assistance, visible versus invisible disabilities, dealing with service animals, etc. Remember these front-line folks are the face of your organization and, unfortunately, the inducement for many a patron complaint."
At MSG, Sullivan and her colleagues created a video of common scenarios that involved patrons with disabilities. "This helped leaps and bounds," she recalled. "If you don’t have the funding or means to do a video, acting out a situation can be just as effective."
4) Avoid Common or Obvious Mistakes
According to Sullivan, these can range from lumping all disabilities together to going overboard because of one complaint to failing to provide equal access or opportunity for ticket purchases.
"This includes VIP packages, presales, SRO and fan club," she stated. Occasionally, special promotions for a specific type of ticket can lead to groups of people being excluded from having access to those packages. As ticket-industry marketing becomes more niche and unique, it’s important for ticketing professionals to consider all potential customers in their promotional efforts. Then, there is the matter of the occasional fan request that just isn't a good idea. She illustrated, "Yes, a Segway can be considered a mobility device, but you don’t have to allow them into a sold-out concert."
5) Embrace the Future
"I think we will see advances related to smartphones and closed captioning," Sullivan concluded. "In fact, the Shubert Organization has been testing their new offering in a couple theaters around the country.”
Google Maps has included accessible routes for major metro areas, and I think we will see venues incorporating this type of technology into their apps and event experiences. Proliferation of Google indoor maps to assist with navigation through museums and attractions. Chatbots with AI via auditory or text methods will also provide more on-demand answers to assist patrons with disabilities and all fans and patrons for that matter."
Sullivan is also hopeful the U.S. Department of Justice will finally come out with regulations related to website accessibility. She also expects to see increases in the number of autistic-friendly performances offered nationwide, further regulations on emotional support animals and new guidelines for venues to control the abuse of accessible seating, which is a headache for many ticket offices around the country.
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Tags: Accessibility , Venues