ADA Consent Decree Announced

We continue to be amazed by how many ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) violations we see in entertainment facilities. ADA, which is Federal civil rights legislation, is now over 10 years old. Yet we still run into entertainment center owners, who for some reason, don't think it applies to their facilities, don't understand its requirements or believe they have the option not to follow it, in many instances.

Here is one example of how less than strict compliance with ADA requirements can get you into serious trouble. The U.S. Justice Department, which enforces ADA (no, local building inspectors have no jurisdiction over the Federal ADA), has announced a recent decree with AMC Theatres, one of the largest cinema operators in the United States. The Justice Department began a nationwide investigation into AMC's stadium-style theatres after receiving complaints. Under the consent decree, AMC has agreed to make improvements to 92 stadium-style movie theatres, including providing accessible wheelchair seating locations with the proper number and configuration of companion seats, providing the required number of accessible restroom stalls and other restroom features, making routes into and within auditoriums wheelchair accessible, adding accessible parking, providing the required number of assistive listening devices for people who are hard of hearing, adding proper signage, as well as many other corrections.

This is no small expense for AMC. Making many of these corrections to existing facilities will be very expensive, whereas the cost of compliance when the theatres were originally built would have been minor.

The Justice Department's case against AMC for failure to provide wheelchair seating in stadium-style theatres with sight-lines comparable to the general public is still pending.

Information about ADA and detailed rules and standards, including guides, can be found at There are now very specific rules that apply to:

  • Building and site design
  • Children's play areas, both outdoors and indoors
  • Recreation, aquatic, boating, fishing and sports facilities, both indoors and outdoors (these include bowling, miniature golf, petting zoos and target shooting facilities)
  • Fitness facilities
  • Golf courses
  • Amusement rides

A good locator for technical assistance can be found at

For years, our company has been following a higher standard of design called universal design. Whereas ADA requires only minimum standards, universal design seeks to make facilities and all their components usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. It is an inclusive approach to design that extends usability to many groups of people who are not necessarily classified as having a disability under ADA, but who regularly encounter functional obstacles. Universal design also overcomes the shortfall of strict compliance with ADA, in that following only ADA standards often makes facilities and equipment unfriendly to able-bodied people and to children.