Leadership / 02.15.22
Beyond Doing Good: How Every Ticketing Professional Can Be a Change-Maker
Editor’s Note: We are proud to share highlights of our important closing keynote from INTIX 2022, “In Defense of Cultural Rights,” to help ticketing professionals become change-makers and to preview one of the presentations that will be included in our “Best of INTIX 2022” virtual and digital programming package, coming soon!
Ticketing professionals have what is arguably the best job in the world. We sell happiness. We sell delight. We sell excitement. And in doing so, we create unforgettable memories.
There is, however, more we can all do to ensure every customer, fan and patron has an equal opportunity to enjoy the live entertainment experience.
How? We can become cultural rights defenders.
This may sound like something coined specifically for the world of arts and culture. It definitely applies in that market segment. But it goes well beyond arts and culture and is essential for sports, museums, attractions, concerts, festivals and more.
You are probably wondering why being a cultural rights defender is so vital.
Despite our very best intentions, ticketing policies and procedures can inadvertently affect, discriminate against and disenfranchise people with disabilities.
In the United States, where there are 61 million adults with disabilities, this means one-quarter of our guests may not feel as welcome as we would like them to feel. Even worse, they may not come to our games, shows, concerts or exhibits at all.
So, how can we fix that?
Betty Siegel, J.D., a passionate advocate for people of all ages and abilities, traveled to INTIX 2022 in Orlando to share exactly that as our closing keynote speaker. By taking her important, straight-shooting guidance to heart, we can become even better caretakers of all our guests.
After bursting onto the stage and commanding the attention of the entire room, Siegel told hundreds of ticketing professionals that she is excited by the future we are shaping together — one with full inclusion for people with disabilities of all ages, across the country and around the world.
Then she threw her carefully prepared speech into the air and launched instead into a story about why she calls her session “In Defense of Cultural Rights.”
Every time you raise your hand, you are a cultural rights defender.
It matters and it counts because, as ticketing professionals, we represent the entire community of people that are our audiences, our patrons and our fans.
The United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities details the right to participate in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sports. People with disabilities have the right to access, among other things, venues of all types and sizes, including theaters, arenas, museums, and other venues and cultural spaces.
Siegel spoke of demographic changes and how that relates to our guests. Here are some stats she shared about the disability community:
- Globally, there are approximately 1 billion people with disabilities.
- In the United States, 61 million adults — or one in four — have a disability.
- Globally, only 2.9% of people have a severe disability and 12.4% are moderately disabled.
This last stat means the majority of people with disabilities who want to attend live events have only mild disabling conditions. They are not predominantly wheelchair users, nor are they primarily people who are Deaf, blind or who have autism. And even among those populations, there is a spectrum of disability.
Another stereotype Siegel is working hard to change is that of older adults being frail and fragile. Many, including her own 95-year-old mother, are active participants in society. Siegel’s mother goes to water aerobics every day, was going to the theater and attending venues two to three times a week before COVID-19 hit, and she volunteers everywhere.
This, says Siegel, is a more typical example of the older adult we will see increasingly in our venues. By 2030, there will be more people over 60 in the United States than under 30. That, Siegel emphasizes, is less than 10 years from now. Considering that 46% of people globally over the age of 60 have a disability, it is particularly important to ensure this audience segment feels welcome and valued at your venue.
Then, Siegel touched on social trends that we need to know to better serve our audiences, as well as one of the most important takeaways from her talk.
Following Siegel’s point about the importance of being compliant with WCAG 2.1 AA, the voluntary Web Content Accessibility Guidelines that can help win your case if you are sued for noncompliance under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), she shared some important legal information and trends.
Under Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, if you receive or have ever received any federal financial assistance (e.g., Paycheck Protection Program funding), even if it is only one penny and/or it is received indirectly, you cannot subject any person with a disability to discrimination or exclude them from participation. If someone does sue you under Section 504, they can collect damages, whereas under the ADA, they can only get injunctive relief, which means they are suing you to get the problem fixed. You do not, says Siegel, want to be sued under Section 504.
Regarding the ADA, the standards for accessible design were updated in 2010, so when you are looking up information, it is essential to check the date of the documentation you are reading, says Siegel.
Additionally, do not forget about your state and local laws. In California, for example, the Unruh Civil Rights Act contains more stringent regulations around disability than the ADA. With Unruh, Siegel warns that venues and entertainment organizations must be especially vigilant because of the broader rights conferred and the fact that you can be sued for damages. Under Unruh, each access violation can cost $4,000 — and that is for every single offense, every single time a person comes to your venue. So, if a toilet seat is too low or an accessible parking spot is not signed properly, you could be looking at a $4,000 fine per access violation each time a person visits your venue.
The number of lawsuits being filed also appears to be on steadily increasing:
- In 2019, there were 11,053 lawsuits filed under ADA Title III, which covers places of public accommodation.
- In 2020, even with COVID-19, the number of lawsuits filed did not decrease much, at 10,982.
- Halfway through 2021, the number of lawsuits filed was 6,304.
- The prediction is that the final tally for 2021 will surpass 12,000.
- The bulk of these lawsuits are around physical and communication access, but there are also a significant number of claims regarding digital access.
- In 2020, there were more than 4,000 claims under Title III for inaccessible websites, mobile apps, video accessibility, etc.
- It is predicted that the number for 2021 will jump once tallied.
It would be a shame, says Siegel, to wait to get sued so your guests can go online to buy a ticket or find out what time a show starts.
Another reason to make an accessible website a priority are the stats behind cart abandonment. In this next video clip, Siegel shares that billions of dollars have been left on the table when people who are blind or have vision loss could not complete their online transactions. She also talks about lawsuits, things to keep an eye on during COVID-19 times, and the importance of being prepared to update policies, practices and procedures.
It is important to design cultural experiences and spaces that expect diversity, says Siegel. Ultimately, good design is accessible design, and it makes spaces more welcoming for everyone.
It is also important to think about technology, because digital access is the new frontier. When things are done right, many more people are included. As examples, museums have much larger audiences when people from around the world can engage with their online content and programming. On a more granular level, Siegel recommends turning on the live captioning features in Zoom. It is not the same as having a live captioner, and sometimes funny mistakes will be made in the auto-transcription, but it can help all attendees more easily follow conversations, and it also helps to meet accessibility requirements.
Additionally, Siegel recommends paying close attention to the customer experience and how your guests are being treated. Neurodivergent attendees and their families and friends absolutely want the option of choosing a relaxed performance but, when asked, Siegel says they feel most welcome because of a venue’s staff. The top thing they enjoyed, she says, was that the ticket office staff were nice and that the ushers were kind.
To maintain a strong focus on exemplary customer service for all, Sigel recommends to:
- Allocate staff, time and dollars for access.
- Lead by example and take action.
- Raise your hand and ask if the needs of all attendees are being considered.
- Advocate for things that customers have requested.
Ultimately, becoming more accessible does not happen overnight. It is something you have to nurture. Encourage your staff to pay attention and strive for inclusion, says Siegel, then do it again and again, because what was not possible before might become possible now or in the future.
Before the audience Q&A, Siegel finished her keynote with one last story. In it, she shared that exact message and framed it with a tale about Star Trek.
The Q&A session — which included further discussion on being sued due to receipt of federal money and not being in compliance with Section 504; why accessible seating locations should not be moved, even for spotlights, cameras and/or other tech equipment; formulas to determine the number of accessible and companion seats required; proportional seating and pricing; and more — will be included as part of Siegel’s full keynote video, to be showcased in “The Best of INTIX 2022” virtual and digital programming package, coming soon!
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Tags: Accessibility , Leadership , INTIX 2022