Last weekend, I tried to get accommodation for my disability at a local movie theater, The Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill. Most of the other theaters I’ve approached have been fine – they just put up a handwritten “reserved” sign on two aisle seats and ask me to be there 15 minutes ahead of time. That’s a perfect response and very reasonable.
I wanted to catch the opening of “Obvious Child” this past weekend and it is playing at The Manor and AMC Loews at the Waterfront. I emailed The Manor and heard nothing so I called them. I spoke with the manager, Tony, and he simply said no.
He said that they have a space for a wheelchair where they could set up a folding chair. I explained that someone with motorized chair or scooter might actually need that space whereas I can sit in any seat on the aisle. He said that they have no “method or process” to manage accommodations. So I explained how The Harris and South Side Works manage it. The Harris is smaller than The Manor and South Side Works is larger. He again refused and told me that he can’t reserve seats. He suggested I arrive very early and count on the fact that there won’t be a crowd.
I asked him to bring this up to the owner and perhaps put a “method or process” in place in the future, both to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and to be a decent neighborhood business. He didn’t think the owner would be receptive. He kept repeating “we can’t reserve seats” which is patently untrue – they can easily put a sign on a seat and have the usher keep an eye on it. This is not rocket science. And if other people complain or ask questions, they can have a professional response on hand as they would for any other accommodation request.
I then tried to call Loews but so far, no response. I did leave a message and sent an email to their corporate office. (Note, it has been almost a week and no response.)
The problem here is that refusing a pretty simple accommodation (two reserved aisle seats held until 15 minutes before the show begins) again isolates people and shrinks their world. Granted, I can go see another movie at another theater that will accommodate me. But like many people, I want to see this particular movie for my own reasons. I have money for a ticket, I have a way to get there, I can mobilize myself all around. I don’t need the best seat in the house, I don’t need any particular seats. I just need one simple accommodation.
Now you can argue until you are blue in the face that The Manor can set their own rules. Yes, that’s true, but there is a consequence. And I simply say that all of the time I’ve spent this week taking care of myself because of these this situation is exhausting and unnecessary. I’ve spoken with the Disability Law Project in the past about similar scenarios. It is not so cut and dry as one would think, but providing a seat for the person and one escort is pretty standard fair. Still, did you know access to potable drinking water is NOT a required accommodation? I guess that’s true around the world so why should it surprise us in Pittsburgh?
How much nicer it would be if we lived in a world where businesses valued their customers with disabilities? Instead, I’m literally expending significant energy – that I can’t spare – to work around barriers to my ability to engage in normal everyday things you take for granted.
Now here’s what I don’t need – a lecture or suggestions on how I can manage my disability. The problem is not how to get me into this specific theater without an accommodation – the issue is how to get the theater owner to implement policies so that persons with disabilities aren’t forced to come up with “work arounds” to see a movie. It is not my job to control for people who might fake being disabled to get a reserved aisle seat. It is not my job to make life a little easier for the usher.
If you want people to engage fully in society, for their own sake and for the benefit of society – you the public need to push back. You need to speak out when businesses don’t provide reasonable accommodations. The Manor and Loews both dropped the ball. I will give The Manor credit for actually giving me an answer. Loews just ignored my inquiries.
I wanted to post this before I share my review of “Obvious Child” simply because it impacted my viewing experience. And it is exasperating to feel “grateful” that a theater isn’t full like that’s an ideal situation for me or that I don’t deserve to see popular or opening night movies.
I remember once going to Loews when I was on crutches. I was almost smashed into the wall by people pushing past me on the ramp. I was forced to sit in the front and had to rely on a very nice lady who was a stranger to me to help me get into the seat. When I tried to use the bathroom, I had to navigate my way all the way to the back stall using crutches on a wet floor. My friend who was with me was a man so he couldn’t help me. There were no family bathroom stalls in those days. I eventually cried when I tried to wash my hands balancing on crutches. It was awful. And that was one experience that was only temporary.
I will follow-up with Loews although I suspect they will count on volume to simply ignore me. I don’t know if The Manor will take my concerns seriously or not. I do know that the South Side Works Cinema does and has as does The Harris so I can simply adjust my moviegoing ventures to their schedules and watch everything else on Netflix.
If you have stories about requesting accommodations at public spaces (like restaurants, theaters, etc), please send me a message via email pghlesbian at gmail dot com.