Two months before most Broadway theaters would reopen, the US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan announced Tuesday that a major operator had agreed to a deal to provide more wheelchair access in its five theaters.
Audrey Strauss, the U.S. attorney for the southern New York borough, announced a lawsuit against Jujamcyn Theaters alleging that their theaters violated the Americans With Disabilities Act and an agreement with the company to fix it.
As part of the agreement, the Al Hirschfeld, August Wilson, Eugene O’Neill, St. James and Walter Kerr theaters will provide 44 additional wheelchair-accessible and 54 aisle seats and around 200 access barriers in theater toilets, concession counters, waiting areas and Cash registers.
Jujamcyn will also pay a civil penalty of $ 40,000, according to the announcement.
“As New York City begins to reopen and welcome the world back, we are delighted that Jujamcyn Theaters, LLC has partnered with the office to improve accessibility at its historic venues for all guests to Broadway can enjoy “, said Ms. Dr., said Strauss in a statement.
An email message sent to a spokesman for Jujamcyn on Tuesday evening was not immediately returned.
The first upgrades should be completed by the end of September, according to court documents.
The agreement with Jujamcyn is the latest officials have made with companies operating Broadway theaters, many of which opened decades before the groundbreaking Americans With Disabilities Act was signed in 1990 and require greater accessibility for people with disabilities.
Accessibility in Broadway theaters has been a challenge for years, with issues ranging from limited wheelchair-accessible seating in theaters to lack of accommodation at the box office. Broadway theater operators have long been committed to making their facilities more ADA compliant.
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In 2003, the head of the Shubert Organization said it had spent about $ 5 million on modernizing 16 theaters to bring them into line with the ADA, following a recommendation from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “What we did was a combination of forced and voluntary work,” said the chairman of the organization, Gerald Schönfeld, at the time. “We were a willing accomplice.”
In 2014, the Nederlander Organization entered into an agreement with the US Attorney General to modernize nine facilities after the Attorney General filed a lawsuit. The company agreed to provide 70 additional wheelchair-accessible seats and 134 additional seats for changing aisles, and to remove more than 500 barriers to accessibility in its theaters.
In general, facilities built prior to the ADA’s enactment in the 1990s must remove barriers to access “where readily possible,” according to the US Attorney’s Office.
The announcement of the deal with Jujamcyn came as Broadway and other theater districts around the world prepared to reopen after pandemic restrictions forced many of them to temporarily close their doors. Some shows responded by offering a streaming version of their personal productions that would allow ticket holders to watch and listen to them from home, a boon for those who found personal productions inaccessible.
But as more people were vaccinated and pandemic restrictions were relaxed, the shows returned to their respective stages. (Last month, the first show returned to Broadway when Bruce Springsteen stunned more than 1,700 theatergoers with music and stories for two hours at the St. James Theater.)
And the return to more personal theatrical performances has revived theatrical accessibility concerns and fears that pandemic-era accessibility may be lost.
In New York City, theater operators have said they are making progress in enhancing the personal experience for those in need.
In 2018, New York City announced that it would offer grants to Off Broadway and other small theaters to install software that would allow visitors to follow along with smartphones and tablets in low light.