Ticket Sales and Accessible Seating

The regulations issued by the Department of Justice in 2010, which cover state and local governments as well as many types of private businesses, include significant new requirements related to the sale of tickets for accessible seating for performances, sporting events, or other events where seats are assigned. The new requirements are designed to make it possible to purchase tickets for accessible seats, including over the Internet or through third-party vendors, as conveniently as other tickets are purchased.

Additionally, the regulations establish guidelines for handling group sales, season ticket and other series-of-event ticket sales, seating for individuals who obtain tickets through transfers or the secondary market (ranging from simple transfers between friends to commercial exchange systems), releasing tickets for accessible seats to individuals without disabilities, and preventing fraudulent purchase of tickets for accessible seating.

Leveling the Playing Field

Entities that sell or distribute tickets must be able to identify and describe the features of available accessible seats through the same methods used to offer information about conventional seats. This means, for example, that if an entity offers seats for sale over the Internet, displaying a seating chart that is continuously updated to show the exact locations and prices of all available seats, the accessible seats must be identified on the chart.

Accessible seats must be available at every price level that is offered. This may necessitate offering different prices for accessible seats that are actually clustered together, particularly in older facilities where accessible seats may not be as dispersed as they would be in newer facilities. For example, an older performance venue may have an inaccessible balcony, where the seats are typically offered at a lower price than the seats on the main level; due to the existing structural barriers, all of the accessible seats are clustered on the main level in the “best” section, where ticket prices are higher. The venue must offer a proportional number of accessible seats at the balcony price, to make up for the lack of accessible seating in the balcony.

Purchasing Multiple Tickets and Group Sales

The new rules provide a great deal of guidance on how to ensure that individuals who need accessible seats will be able to sit with their family members and companions. Individuals who purchase an accessible seat must be allowed to purchase additional tickets, in the same numbers as others purchase tickets for non-accessible seats.

When the purchase of four or more tickets is generally allowed, the individual purchasing a wheelchair space must be able to purchase up to three additional tickets for seats which are contiguous with the wheelchair seating location, if such seats are available at the time of purchase. This may necessitate using another wheelchair seating location for a companion. If three contiguous spaces are not available, the number not available must be offered as nearby as possible. Every effort should be made to seat groups of any size together, and when groups must be split up, individuals who need accessible seats should not be isolated.

The provisions related to contiguous seats are not intended to require that more, or fewer, tickets be sold to individuals with disabilities than are sold to others. For example, if ticket sales for a popular event are limited to two tickets per customer, the venue does not have to sell more than two tickets (e.g., one wheelchair space and one companion seat) to an individual with a disability. By the same token, if any customer is allowed to purchase up to ten tickets for an event, an individual who purchases a ticket for a wheelchair space must be allowed to purchase up to nine additional tickets, although only three of them must be, if possible, contiguous with the wheelchair space.

A variety of seating configurations will result from these new policies. There may be times when an individual using a wheelchair may be able to purchase a wheelchair seating location, but not be able to purchase even one adjacent companion seat, because all the nearby seats have already been sold to other groups. There may be times when wheelchair seating locations will be occupied by people without disabilities – companions to those using other nearby accessible seats.

“Hold and Release”

There are other situations where accessible seats may be sold to individuals without disabilities. When all tickets for non-accessible seats, or all non-accessible seats in a designated area or price category, have been sold, a venue is no longer required to hold back the accessible seating for the exclusive use of individuals with disabilities; the accessible seats may be released for general sale. 

The rules provide specific direction on handling such sales for season tickets or other series-of-event tickets, including where ownership rights are attached to such purchases. Steps must be taken to ensure that accessible seating that is released on a long-term basis is not forever lost to individuals with disabilities. There are a variety of ways that venues can handle season ticket sales and ownership rights to ensure that individuals with disabilities have opportunities to purchase accessible seating in the future.

Ticket Transfers

Most venues allow ticket holders to transfer tickets or use tickets obtained on the secondary market, and individuals with disabilities must be allowed to do so under the same terms and conditions as others. Venue operators must make reasonable modifications in their practices to try to accommodate individuals with disabilities who obtain tickets for inaccessible seats. A venue should exchange the ticket for one to a comparable, accessible seat if one is available at the time.

Prevention of Fraud

The new regulations include entirely new provisions aimed at curbing the fraudulent purchase of accessible seating, which, as the Department of Justice noted, is a concern shared by both assembly venue operators and people with disabilities. Because accessible seats in many venues are in prime locations offering excellent views (in some cases at lower prices than surrounding seats), and are also held back until all other seats are sold, there has been growing concern that individuals without disabilities purchase them needlessly, reducing availability for those who do need them.

Seeking to balance this valid concern with the privacy rights of individuals with disabilities, the Department allows venues to “inquire” whether an individual purchasing a ticket for an accessible seat for a single event is an individual who needs the features of the accessible seat, or is purchasing the ticket on behalf of such an individual. An individual purchasing a ticket for an accessible seat for a series of events may be asked to “attest in writing” that the seat is for an individual who needs its features.

For more information, see the Department of Justice’s publication ADA 2010 Revised Requirements: Ticket Sales, or the regulations for Title II and Title III.

This is a publication of the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the U.S. Dept. of Ed. (Grant # H133A060085). The opinions contained in this publication are those of the grantee and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Education.

© 2012 TransCen, Inc.