If you work at a venue or any type of public assembly facility, then what I’m about to tell you won’t come as much of a surprise — the American with Disabilities Act is being massively abused by a small group of non-disabled individuals rendering it more or less unusable.

The American Disabilities Act requires most venues to set aside a number of seats for disabled people at music and sports venues (and just about everywhere else). This number is based on the overall size — the idea was to provide disabled individuals with access to events.

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But here’s the problem — the ADA doesn’t clearly define what constitutes a disabled person. And it severely restricts a venue’s ability to question a person’s disabled status. So what’s happening is that non-disabled people are buying up tickets in disabled sections, depriving actual disabled people from sections clearly allocated for them.

This practice is particularly egregious on the secondary market, where scalpers knowingly buy up seats in disabled sections and resale them to non-disabled people. The result is that there is no real disabled seating at most high profile events.

Something has to be done about this — of course disabled people should have access to special seating, and they also have the right to resale their tickets just like an able-bodied person has a right to resale theirs. But with zero enforceability, zero verification and zero definition of what constitutes a disability, a small group of bad actors are exploiting the system and making a mockery of all us. And it’s about time that someone did something about it.

The Spiel – Special Place In Hell

The abuse of the disabled seating section gained national attention last month when Brian Kitts with Red Rocks began talking publicly about the problem.

“My belief is there is a special place in hell for people who knowingly buy those” seats and don’t have a disability, the Red Rocks spokesperson told Denver’s Channel 9 News.

We reached out to Kitts, who told Amplify that Red Rocks only has two rows of seats carved out for disabled people — one row in the very front of the outdoor amphitheater, and one row in the very back.

The front row section is highly coveted and many fans have figured out that they can buy front row seats without being questioned about their disability.

“We are not legally allowed to ask individuals what their disabilities are,” said Kitts. “The law grants us very little flexibility in how we ensure that disabled seats actually go to individuals with disabilities.”

Another complaint is that the tickets are often resold on sites like StubHub at huge markups — after all, these are front row seats. I asked spokesperson Glenn Lehrman what the company is doing to prevent disabled tickets from going to non-disabled persons.

“We do two things,” he said in email. “We require sellers to disclose that they are listing an ADA seat and we have a pop up when someone tries to buy those seats letting them know that these are ADA and are only to be used by those with disabilities.”

The Real – Shame is the Game

“Until the law is changed, we have to live with the system in place,” Kitts said. “We’re very restricted with what we can do to ensure that these tickets actually go to disabled people.”

The only tool Red Rocks has to try and rein in ADA abuse is shaming those able-bodied individuals who knowing purchase disabled tickets (mostly through articles like this).

Of course, shaming a person for abusing the ADA is wrought with all types of liabilities — one never knows what an individual’s disability is, and legally you’re not allowed to ask. I encouraged Kitts to create a sign in the ADA section that says “if you are sitting in this section and don’t have a disability then you are taking a seat away from someone who actually is disabled.”

What’s the answer? How does your facility deal with making sure disabled seats actually go to disabled people? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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