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Can you walk? You can? Then get out of the damn elevator!
October 23, 2010 9:11 PM   Subscribe

If a building (in New York City) is listed as being accessible for disabled people, are you allowed to ask them if they're disabled before letting them use the elevator and deny them access to it if they say they're not? (I know this sounds offensive. It offends me. Please read the rest before judging. Thanks.)

My theatre company is sharing space with another theatre group. It's two theatres on the same floor of the same building. We're both renting from the same landlord.

The only way up to the theatres, other than walking up four flights of stairs, is via an elevator that has to be operated with a key. Unfortunately, the elevator opens backstage, behind the set of the other company. I know it's a royal pain for them to have people come out of an elevator backstage, while their actors are trying to prepare, but I can't move the elevator.

Many of the patrons of my show are elderly. Most of them come early (we ask them to) if they need to use the elevator, but a few get there fairly close to show time. We've shared the space with many other groups, and they've all been understanding. After all, some of the patrons who come up in the elevator are there to see THEIR shows. But this group that's in there now, all really young people who can't imagine what it's like to have trouble with stairs, is being really difficult about it.

Our shows start at 8pm. I promised them I'd never let anyone up after 7:55 and, even then, I'd only let people up that late in case of an emergency -- that I'd try to get everyone up by 7:50. They got upset about that, so I changed it to 7:45 and put a sign downstairs that said the last elevator run would be 15 minutes before the show.

Tonight, I went down at 7:45 and asked if anyone needed the elevator. An old couple said they did, and, as I was helping them into the elevator, a young couple decided to come along for the ride. I guess the actors in the other show saw them and got pissed off. Their stage manager complained to me.

She said, "The elevator is for handicapped people only. Do NOT let someone up if they're able to use the stairs."

I said, "I understand how you feel, but I can't ask people if they're handicapped or not."

She said, "Of course you can."

I said, "How can I do that in a way that's not humiliating?"

She said, "Ask them if they are physically able to climb stairs. Only take them up in the elevator if they're not."

To me, this is absurd. My 80-year-old dad is physically CAPABLE of climbing stairs, but he really shouldn't be climbing up four flights. There are lots of people like him.

The landlord is basically absentee, and while he makes lip service about keeping the place accessible (and lists it as such), he doesn't want to antagonize the other company, because they pay a lot more than we do. (The theatre they're using is bigger and nicer.) If we make too big a stink about this, he'll won't let us do shows there in the future, and that would suck for various reasons.

But I'm guessing it's against the law to deny access to people or to ask for proof that they are handicapped (or even to ask for their word that they are). Am I right? If someone can cite chapter and verse of NYC law, that would be helpful. I could show it to their stage manager. She's being pretty harsh and unfair about this, but I doubt she'll knowingly violate the law.
posted by grumblebee to Law & Government (41 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
The best I can find is this: http://www.nyc.gov/html/cchr/html/public.html and http://www.nyc.gov/html/cchr/html/equalbook.html

This sounds like a tricky situation. Perhaps a sign that states "For handicapped patrons only" would be sufficient enough to make things equitable, but as I am able-bodied and not an expert in this area, I am not sure what I would do if I were you.
posted by patronuscharms at 9:20 PM on October 23, 2010


Don't ask the elderly and obviously handicapped. Its obvious that they need the elevator. Their age or physical needs are obvious and don't need explaining.

You can then ask the more able-bodied that get on alongside the handicapped in a leading way and give a wink, so that they'll answer in the affirmative.

"I'll get in trouble if you guys aren't elderly or handicapped or in physical need of this elevator. My boss is real strict about it and apologize. You do need it right?", raising your voice at the end.
posted by allthewhile at 9:20 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


You might want to take a look at the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities, particularly this section.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:23 PM on October 23, 2010


This probably won't help much, but I do know that I've seen plenty of signs for the handicapped seating on the subway and busses that have wording to the effect of "Not all disabilities are visible..."
posted by blaneyphoto at 9:27 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you asked outright if anyone needed the elevator, then the younger couple were just being innocent about it. However, you can't inquire whether people are disabled or not. Plenty of people who need or might prefer to use the elevator just don't look sick. And that includes young people. The other company needs to understand that fact.

Case in point: I'm a young woman and I took an elevator one flight up a few days ago because I'm dealing with a foot injury that isn't obvious.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:40 PM on October 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


You (and most certainly the stage manager) need to read up a bit on the Americans with Disabilites Act.

In brief: No, you cannot blatently ask about an individuals disability nor can you refuse a service such as an elevator to individuals that you can't overtly "see" are handicapped.
posted by labwench at 9:45 PM on October 23, 2010 [10 favorites]


Isn't this tantamount to asking patrons to disclose confidential medical information? In order to get to use an elevator at a theatre?

I would suggest calling the ADA info line to ask about this. The ADA covers how businesses accommodate disabled patrons.
posted by Ouisch at 9:47 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


In brief: No, you cannot blatently ask about an individuals disability nor can you refuse a service such as an elevator to individuals that you can't overtly "see" are handicapped.

This is not how I recall the ADA working for any scenario that I can think of, let alone one where you're asking for the purpose of providing an the accommodation for said disability.

It would be very interesting to see a citation to an actual statute or administrative rule that forbids the asking of such questions.

After all: some parking spaces require an outward declaration that one is disabled, so it's not as though this is an unusual issue.

There are a lot of popular misconceptions of the ADA and it would be handy for people claiming the ADA says something to actually back that up with a pin-point cite rather than just a link to the whole thing.
posted by toomuchpete at 9:57 PM on October 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


And, seriously, it sounds like you've bent over backward to accommodate these callow little titty-babies already.

They need to grow up and act like adults. If I were you, I'd tell them straight out that anyone who chooses to use the elevator when they've PAID to go to the theatre (whether it's your production or theirs) deserves far more accommodation than these head-in-ass nincompoops.

Sorry, it's late and I'm grumpy. I'm also young and healthy-looking, but also have an invisible heart arrhythmia that can be triggered by taking too many stairs, so I often choose take the elevator. For which total strangers sometimes give me grief.
posted by Ouisch at 9:58 PM on October 23, 2010 [12 favorites]


I totally understand that someone might be disabled without it showing. Frankly, if someone is just really tired (or has a bad cold or whatever), that's a good-enough reason in my book.

If I could just cite a law, I think this would clear up. If it's law it's law. If it's "just" a question of what's good manners, they've already proved they don't give a shit. And they have some power on their side, as they are the higher-paying renters. But if I can cite the law, I'm pretty sure they'll back down.
posted by grumblebee at 10:16 PM on October 23, 2010


I call WTF on the other company. I've often been backstage at a major opera company and a major ballet company as a guest. There are people doing this and that all over the place, before during and after the show. Hell, there are carpenters and props people making bird houses and shit in their down times between cues. A few people quietly walking across the backstage area once aren't going to disturb a professional.

Seems like you're not dealing with professionals, you're dealing with prima donnas. They can suck it. Use your elevator and let them do the complaining to the landlord, rather than be rude to your patrons (legal or not). Maybe the other company would be happier with their own house.
posted by ctmf at 10:16 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


There are a lot of invisible disabilities.

Thinking of some of my friends in the 30-40 year old demographic alone:

* one friend is being treated for cancer, and has severe fatigue from chemo;
* another friend has multiple sclerosis, which affects balance;
* another three friends have chronic fatigue;
* another friend has fibromyalgia.

All of these six people have problems with using stairs.

Yet all of these people, on a good day, could "pass" as not-disabled, partly because they are young and look healthy despite being in considerable pain/fatigue.

And it is offensive and insensitive to ask them to disclose their health issues in order to access a lift.

Two good articles that explain this issue at more length:

"Accessibility doesn't just mean I get easily into a building. Accessibility means anonymity. It reduces the need for compassion, understanding, special consideration, to Nil. It allows me to slip in unnoticed and set up quietly. This doesn't mean it masks my disability, it just makes it mean something very different." - Dave Hingsburger

On standing up, but not for myself (sometimes, even when you are in pain/fatigue from standing, asking for a seat on the train can be too hard.)

You could simply state, both in a sign and verbally, "We ask people to use the stairs if they are able to, as using the lift causes disruption to the other theatre company."
posted by Hot buttered sockpuppets at 10:27 PM on October 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


I understand your outrage. I had to leave the theatre in the middle of the show, because I was so upset.

The situation is touchy, because we can't easily find another space that we can afford right now. If I piss off these people to the point where they complain to the landlord, he'll say my group can't use the space any more. He'd rather lose us than the other group. Believe me, I am looking for new space, but it will take a while. And meanwhile, I have a lot of people relying on me to keep producing shows. I'm giving opportunities to a bunch of actors, etc.

But the landlord is not going to want to get in trouble with the law. And neither are these other producers. So at least before I piss them off and maybe lose out in the process, I would like to be armed with some real information, rather than just outrage.

Sorry, I know this is disgusting. I know these producers are immature brats. If you want to vent in this thread, I understand. But what I'm really looking for is a paragraph of legal text that says I can't ask people if they're handicapped before allowing them to use the elevator.
posted by grumblebee at 10:31 PM on October 23, 2010


And just to be really clear, I am not going to ask people in they're handicapped or not. So don't worry about that. I would never stoop so low. But I'd like some law on my side.
posted by grumblebee at 10:33 PM on October 23, 2010


I would suggest calling the ADA info line to ask about this. The ADA covers how businesses accommodate disabled patrons.

I will on Monday, but it's Sunday tomorrow. They won't be open. And we have two performances tomorrow.
posted by grumblebee at 10:37 PM on October 23, 2010


Bluff?

Even if what they are doing isn't illegal, it's sure as heck immoral. If you think they'll back down if you assert the law, assert it. If it turns out you weren't quite correct, oops. Hell, it probably is the law, but you won't know for sure until Monday when you call the ADA.
posted by zug at 10:41 PM on October 23, 2010


Here is how you explain it to the other company and the landlord. The problem with the ADA is that the only remedy for people who are discriminated against is to bring suit in court. There is no enforcement agency or inspection agency involved. It is entirely possible that asking people about their disability is illegal under the ADA. It is entirely possible that asking people about their disability is perfectly fine under the ADA. Unless you know for sure it is the latter, you are opening yourself up to potential lawsuits if you ask. I don't think it's worth the risk.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:10 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a point of reference - when I was a kid, my mom broke her ankle and was in a wheelchair temporarily.

We had tickets to Cats! (touring) and we had to/got to enter a large professional event space (a basketball arena oddly enough) through the dressing areas. All the wigs and stuff were amazing.

This was the late 80s, so maybe things have changed, but if a big professional venue and an actor capable of playing Mr. Mestopheles (sp?) can handle it, so can these other people.
posted by k8t at 11:14 PM on October 23, 2010


I don't have a citation to back this up but I believe that it is legal and appropriate to state that certain facilities (elevators, seats, parking spaces) are reserved for use by those with disabilties. It is legal to ask if a person requires an accommodation but it is not legal to ask for the particular diagnosis. If someone says that they need to use the elevator, you should take their word for it and not ask why. So, I think the most technically correct way to say it would be, "This elevator is available as an accommodation for those whose disability make it difficult to use stairs. Do you need such an accommodation?" A simpler version that you might put on a sign is "This elevator is for use by people who have difficulty with stairs. You and your companions are welcome to use it if you need it."
posted by metahawk at 11:28 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


For tomorrow, communicate with the other set of producers before the show. Your goal is to build bridges here. First, let them know that you completely understand and sympathize with their concerns, and that it is absolutely your goal to keep elevator usage to a minimum.

Second, subtly suggest that your patrons could be their patrons at some point in the future, and it's important that they have a good experience and good associations with the building. You want them to look forward to coming to events at the building, not dread the four flights of stairs. Again, make sure that you're presenting this as a "It's mostly good for you because you're the bigger company and bigger draw" thing. You could even present it as you all doing free advertising for how great and accommodating the space is. You're creating customers for them by being gracious!

Next, say that because you are concerned about the building remaining open and usable by everyone, you are going to call the ADA hotline on Monday to inquire about the right way to ask people about their disabilities. (This is important. Don't tell them that you're going to ask IF you can ask about disabilities. Tell them you want to ask in the right way so no one gets in trouble with the law. As far as the other company is concerned, you WANT to ask about disabilities. Ick, I know. But we're building bridges here! We just don't want them unhappy TOMORROW.) Finally, ask if they can just put up with it one more day (tomorrow) so that you can make sure you go about it the right way from now on.

I know this isn't awesome. But it's about people giving you time to sort it out through two performances tomorrow. You've got this. Just build bridges and make sure everyone knows that you're on the same "No one uses the elevator!" team. At least for tomorrow.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:33 PM on October 23, 2010 [10 favorites]


Maybe the other company pays more rent, but that doesn't necessarily mean the landlord doesn't need both rents. He'd probably blow the other company off unless they made it a deal-breaker that the elevator never be used. Even then, he may find it more desirable to find a less high-maintenance company for the other space than to kick you out over the issue.

Sorry I don't have any legal language for you; I think your plan can't hurt. I just don't think your situation is as dire as you think. Has your landlord said anything to you?

One production had a real monkey who had a habit of stealing tools from the carpenters and/or climbing the rigging at the fly rail. She had to be shut in one of the orchestra's sound-proof practice rooms for one of the vocal pieces, because she wanted to screech along with the soprano. The performers managed to 'prepare' just fine.
posted by ctmf at 11:36 PM on October 23, 2010


Alternate donating an employee to handle elevator duties, with the added bonus of being able to handle everybody who wants to use the elevator. At times where only one group is performing they handle their own, but when both are performing they take turns. Think of it as a special kind of usher.
posted by rhizome at 12:09 AM on October 24, 2010


This might do it:
(6) Inquiries. A public accommodation shall not ask about the nature or extent of a personĀ“s disability, but may make two inquiries to determine whether an animal qualifies as a service animal. A public accommodation may ask if the animal is required because of a disability and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform. A public accommodation shall not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal. Generally, a public accommodation may not make these inquiries about a service animal when it is readily apparent that an animal is trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability (e.g., the dog is observed guiding an individual who is blind or has low vision, pulling a personĀ“s wheelchair, or providing assistance with stability or balance to an individual with an observable mobility disability).
See here.

Oddly, I haven't been able to find that in a section that is not about service animals or mobility devices, but I would read this as a blanket statement: A public accommodation shall not ask about the nature or extent of a person's disability (however, there are a couple of questions you can ask about the service animal).

A potential employer "cannot make any pre-employment inquiry about a disability or the nature or severity of a disability," so I can't imagine that it would be okay for some guy standing at an elevator to do so.

I'm sure there's some special language you could use (I realize that you don't want to do this!), but I would say, yeah, at the risk of being sued you aren't going to make inquiries, and that if it's necessary, they should get a lawyer to establish the exact language of permitted interrogation.
posted by taz at 1:29 AM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


And, a more blanket statement:

III-4.1300 Unnecessary inquiries. The ADA prohibits unnecessary inquiries into the existence of a disability.

So. Is it necessary to ask about the existence of a disability in order to operate the elevator, or operate it safely? No. Are they asking everyone who enters the theatre about their medical history or disabilities? No. So they can't ask or require you to ask. I say. :)
posted by taz at 1:47 AM on October 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Just a thought - is the other company actually more worried about their liability of having random people in their production area? A theater set isn't the safest place in the world for someone not accustomed to it. What if someone got injured in their part of the building? That would be a legit concern, I think.
posted by ctmf at 2:59 AM on October 24, 2010


Is there not some other alternative to having a rules lawyering pissing match with these people? Start your shows a half hour before theirs or something, so even your latest patrons are well and truly seated before their show starts.

I believe you're in the moral right here, but you seem to not want to have the fight, so maybe there's a way to not have the fight.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:47 AM on October 24, 2010


toomuchpete: some parking spaces require an outward declaration that one is disabled.

True, but eligibility to park in spaces for the handicapped is established and certified by a doctor, not by the business that owns the parking lot. The people who run the business are not qualified to make such determinations, and are not legally able to make exceptions based in their own judgment, i.e. they can't tell someone who lacks a special doctor-approved, state-issued parking permit that they can use the handicap parking spaces anyhow.

It seems unlikely to me (though IANAL) that the theater can legally put itself in the position of making determinations of who is or isn't eligible to use the elevator. It might legally be able to require a doctor's note, but it might then have to require such documentation of everyone who wants to use the elevator. It seems plausible that the theater could ask whether the customer requires the elevator, but you'd have to take their word for it because, again, you can't put yourself in the business of determining who is and isn't disabled enough to need the elevator.

Grumblebee: Our shows start at 8pm. I promised them I'd never let anyone up after 7:55 and, even then, I'd only let people up that late in case of an emergency -- that I'd try to get everyone up by 7:50. They got upset about that, so I changed it to 7:45 and put a sign downstairs that said the last elevator run would be 15 minutes before the show.

Reading through the ADA stuff that Taz linked to, it seems likely that even this policy is flirting with illegality. See Equality in participation/benefits and Maintenance of accessible features.

I know it's a royal pain for them to have people come out of an elevator backstage, while their actors are trying to prepare, but I can't move the elevator

I think you need to be very assertive about the fact that preventing people from using the elevator is not a viable solution to this particular royal pain, and that other solutions have to be explored if the neighboring theater is going to get real relief. Express your desire to find a solution that's actually workable. Heck, why not offer to have your set builders build some movable screens to separate customers from the other company's backstage apparatus during performance times?
posted by jon1270 at 4:59 AM on October 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I have Rheumatoid Arthritis. Some days, I can't take the stairs. I don't look handicapped unless you know that my fingers used to have smaller, straighter joints, and my feet used to fit and tolerate pretty shoes, as well as tolerating walking and stair climbing.

When the other theater complains, take their side as you insist on your way "I know it's distracting; the ADA laws are a real pain. We'll work with our patrons." "Boy, don't these regulations get to be a pain?" They're being jerks, but you have to placate them.

If you want to be a jerk, which I suspect you don't, get someone to go to their show, arriving 5-6 mins before curtain, and request the elevator.
posted by theora55 at 6:12 AM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I hate to play the "yes, but..." game. I know you folks are being helpful:

Second, subtly suggest that your patrons could be their patrons at some point in the future, and it's important that they have a good experience and good associations with the building.


They don't give a shit. The patrons I brought up yesterday were all members of THEIR audience, not mine, and they knew it. (I made sure they knew it.) It was after I brought THEIR patrons up that they made a big stink to me. And the only obviously disabled person (as opposed to elderly) I've ever brought up, a girl on crutches, was also there to see their show. They are aware of this. They don't care.

Sorry for the stereotype, but this is basically a bunch of callous young people (with money) doing a show. They don't seem to care about older people. They're pretty disgusting.

And the landlord has made it VERY clear that he doesn't want to antagonize them. Regarding the elevator, he said, "You need to work it out with them. They have paid a lot for the space with the elevator in it." I mentioned that we might not be able to continue working at his theatre if this turns into an issue. I thought that would shake him, because we've been renting for years. But it didn't. I know that he can barely pay HIS rent (we're all subletters). He is not thinking long term. He is thinking that RIGHT NOW he doesn't want to antagonize big-money renters. The other group is paying him 2K a week. We're paying a fraction of that.

Like I said, we are LOOKING for another space. It's hard to find one in our price range. We will find one, but it may take a year or so.

However, when I said to him, "So, if the other group says we can't use the elevator at all, we can't use it?" He said, "Well, this IS an accessible building. We can't discriminate against disabled people..." So he's hedging. This is why the law is SO useful. If I can cite the law, HE can cite the law. He doesn't want to be the bad guy in this other company's eyes. He wants to look like he's catering to their every whim, but "It's the law, guys, so whatchagonnado?"

(I am not defending him. I'm just trying to make the situation clear.)

Is there not some other alternative to having a rules lawyering pissing match with these people? Start your shows a half hour before theirs or something, so even your latest patrons are well and truly seated before their show starts.

Good thought, but not practical or possible. The tickets are sold. We can't possible contact all the people (we didn't sell the tickets -- it was through a ticketing agency) and tell them we've changed the times to half-an-hour earlier. If we just start half-an-hour early, our patrons will be REALLY upset. They won't know and they'll all be "late." Some people drive in from out-of-town to see the show. Also, the show has been advertised as starting at 8pm. People who DIDN'T reserve seats show up at 7:45 or 7:50 to buy tickets.


is the other company actually more worried about their liability of having random people in their production area?


I doubt it. They have to keep a clear passage backstage, for fire-law reasons. (I'm a Certified Fire Guard, and I can see they've done things right in terms of that.) They have expressed concern to me, not about that, but about their "private time" backstage being interrupted.

Honestly, we've worked at this theatre for years. We've shared with many, many groups. This has NEVER been an issue before. We've gotten along with all the other renters. Everyone has always been accommodating.
posted by grumblebee at 6:30 AM on October 24, 2010


I am speaking as someone who has actually been a stage manager in New York.

You tell them I said to tell the stage manager to FUCKING DEAL WITH IT. Because FIGURING OUT HOW TO FUCKING DEAL WITH IT is THE FUCKING STAGE MANAGER'S FUCKING JOB DESCRIPTION.

Think about it: when they rented the space, they saw where the elevator was. They had AN ENTIRE REHEARSAL PERIOD to figure out how to accomodate for that by:

1. designing the set so as not to have the elevator sit right up against it
2. warning the actors in advance about what showtime would be like
3. adding sound muffling or some other kind of screen between the elevator and their turf
4. asking the landlord THEMSELVES to come up with something to screen it.

They didn't do that. Moreover, it was the other show's stage manager's JOB to do this WEEKS AGO, and they did not do that. And the fact that they did not do that IS NOT YOUR PROBLEM, and you can tell them that I said that AS another stage manager.

Look, I am not unsympathetic. I have worked in theaters where we shared space before. I've worked in sites where we shared DRESSING ROOMS with a second theater upstairs, only they had a craft table and we were ordered not to touch the food on it. I've had to deal with actors from the other show getting lost and stumbling out into our theater ON THE STAGE. I've worked in theaters where our "backstage" was the hallway in an office building that shared space with a girls' club that held a dance during our show, so our production of Don Juan got interrupted by Britney Spears once. I've worked in spaces where the roof was so leaky IT RAINED INSIDE THE THEATER ONCE.

In all those cases, I identified what the other party could do and politely asked them to do it, and I also recognized when they were doing all they could. I then also figured out how to adapt to the situation ourselves as well, and once both those things were done, I fucking dealt with it, and so did the rest of the cast.

And that's exactly what these dicksmacks needed to do, and they're not. You were doing absolutely the right thing by saying you will not let anyone up after a certain time (and 7:50 was the right time, not 7:45). Having to pre-screen the people who need to use the elevator is FUCKING RIDICULOUS. In the example you cited, the ability of the people on the elevator was moot, because YOU HAD TWO PEOPLE WHO DID NEED TO USE THE ELEVATOR, and the other two people just hitched a ride. If you kicked the two younger people off, the two elderly people still would have had to come up, and they still would have had the elevator, so they'd be right back where it was.

And they should have figured this would be an issue WHEN THEY RENTED THE FUCKING THEATER, and the fact that they didn't realize this and do something to cover themselves during the MONTH THE SET DESIGNER HAD TO WORK ON THE DESIGN is NOT YOUR PROBLEM. PERIOD.

....Okay, maybe not use that much venom, but it comforts you to know that that much behavior INSPIRED that much venom in another person on your behalf, then there you go.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:59 AM on October 24, 2010 [16 favorites]


The ADA covers "public accommodations" - including theaters (ADA Title III)

The Title III Technical Manual has some helpful language:

What if a building is not required to have an elevator, but the owner decides to install an elevator anyway? Must the elevator comply with ADAAG elevator requirements? Yes. And that elevator must serve every level of the building, unless it only provides service from a garage to one level of the building.

The ADA prohibits unnecessary inquiries into the existence of a disability. (see the link for examples)


The ADA regs also state "Intimidating or threatening any person because that person is assisting or encouraging an individual or group entitled to claim the rights granted or protected by the Act or this part to exercise those rights"


What I would say to them is the following: Because our building has a passenger elevator, we are required by law to allow access to the elevator to people with disabilities, under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA covers both obvious physical disabilities, as well as the less obvious physical disabilities and certain mental disabilities. Federal, state, and local laws also prohibit inquiring into the nature of a person's disabilities, except where the safety of patrons is involved (that is, if the show for some reason would be dangerous for people with certain disabilities - which it most likely is not). While they may be fine risking a major lawsuit by disabled patrons, or the federal government itself, you do not have the resources to combat such a suit, and therefore will be following the ADA, while trying to cause minimal disruption to their production.

If the landlord has an issue with this, tell him the same thing, and say that, under the ADA, compliance is the responsibility of both the landlord and tenant, and thus he would be equally liable for any violations.
posted by melissasaurus at 7:13 AM on October 24, 2010 [17 favorites]


Their stage manager complained to me.

She said, "The elevator is for handicapped people only. Do NOT let someone up if they're able to use the stairs."


I said, "I understand how you feel, but I can't ask people if they're handicapped or not. there are a lot of different kinds of disability and I am not qualified to decide who is and isn't able-bodied enough to use the stairs."

She said, "Of course you can."


I said, "How can I do that in a way that's not humiliating?"


She said, "Ask them if they are physically able to climb stairs. Only take them up in the elevator if they're not."

You: "I can ask whether they need the elevator, but I will have to take their word on it."

It sounds like your fear of getting kicked out of your space is leading you to respond to your neighbor's complaints by cowering and trying to meet their demands, however unreasonable. I think this is a mistake, because it only encourages them to keep pushing you. If it's a question of what you're willing to do then you always lose because they've got a big stick to threaten you with. If it's a question of rudeness then you lose because your neighbors are rude and don't give a shit. It should be a question of what you're able to do. I realize that that's why you're looking for a legal cite, but even without such an authoritative source, I think you need to always frame the issue as one of your own limited options within the law as you understand it.

For today, you're stuck. Your customers are coming, they are going to use the elevator, and it's tough shit for your neighbors and their compromised privacy. You don't have to say that it's tough shit for them today, but it is. Focus on the longer-term future. Tomorrow you will call some ADA hotline and ask about the situation. If they can't give you a clearcut answer then you will consult with a lawyer. These are the things you can do within the law as you understand it. Your knowledge of the law is imperfect, so for right now you're going to err on the side of safety with regard to the ADA. If they want to physically block the elevator and risk an ADA lawsuit, that's up to them but you won't be a party to it.
posted by jon1270 at 7:21 AM on October 24, 2010


Thank you for all your help.

I think the issue is solved for now. I just had a long talk with the landlord. Turns out, he'd been fed a lot of bullshit stories, including a denial that they'd ever told me to ask whether or not people were disabled.

Anyway, by the end of the call, the landlord was totally getting it. He's a good guy, actually. He just really needs to pay his rent or he won't have a theatre any more. He was hoping diplomacy would work better than it did. He's going to come by the theatre tonight, which is great. He'll see that we're not being pains in the ass.

He thinks it's totally reasonable for me to make two trips to bring people up in the elevator, and he is as horrified as I am (and as all of you are) at the idea of me asking people if they're disabled. I am going to reword the sign, making it say something like "there's an elevator for people who have difficulties with stairs," so it's clear it's not just a general-purpose elevator.

I found out that the other group is gone after next week. So whatever happens will only be an issue for four more performances.
posted by grumblebee at 7:37 AM on October 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


making it say something like "there's an elevator for people who have difficulties with stairs," so it's clear it's not just a general-purpose elevator.
That sounds like a really good solution.

(Can I just say, as a healthy-looking person who sometimes has problems with stairs, that I really appreciate that you've worked so hard to do the right thing about this. When I first got sick, I had a couple of really bad and humiliating experiences where people challenged me about my right to use this kind of accommodation, and it makes me happy that you're putting so much effort into not doing that to people. Thanks for realizing that this is an issue. A lot of people don't.)
posted by craichead at 8:42 AM on October 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


What craichead said. I'm glad you were willing to work so hard on this.
posted by Ouisch at 8:49 AM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


this is late, but in the future... this is one of the few situations where I would say that being an asshole right back to them would have nipped this in the bud. Tell them no, do what you know is right, and let them be the ones to complain to the landlord, if they have the gall.
posted by lemniskate at 8:54 AM on October 24, 2010


(Can I just say, as a healthy-looking person who sometimes has problems with stairs, that I really appreciate that you've worked so hard to do the right thing about this. When I first got sick, I had a couple of really bad and humiliating experiences where people challenged me about my right to use this kind of accommodation, and it makes me happy that you're putting so much effort into not doing that to people. Thanks for realizing that this is an issue. A lot of people don't.)

I second craichead! Thank you for being conscientious, and thank you for sticking to your guns here and insisting that people not be cross-examined about their ability to climb stairs. On days when I need an elevator, having people ask me about it is the very last thing I want.
posted by bewilderbeast at 8:55 AM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Good thought, but not practical or possible. The tickets are sold. We can't possible contact all the people (we didn't sell the tickets -- it was through a ticketing agency) and tell them we've changed the times to half-an-hour earlier.

I was under the impression this was an ongoing problem, rather than something specific to the current performance run, so I meant that more as a 'for future shows' suggestion.

I'm glad it worked out, in any case.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:15 AM on October 24, 2010


[folks this is getting sort of far afield and is not so much for the story-telling about assholes. thanks]
posted by jessamyn at 5:46 PM on October 24, 2010


For future asshattiness by this troupe, I note that outing them (or threatening to) as The Nasty Actors Who Hate The Elderly & Disabled to the media / arts community / government / ticket-buying public would be a pretty effective showkiller and public-relations nightmare for them. If they receive any public arts funding as many theaters do, flouting federal law is a great way to get that yanked.

This may not be a route you prefer to take, but it's something worth keeping in mind. And maybe start a written record of conversations, just in case.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:15 PM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I just wanted to let you guys know that the story had a happy ending.

I just got an email from the stage-manager of the other show. I'd like to quote it here, but, of course, I won't because I don't have her permission to do so. But, basically, she apologized for what she said and said she hoped I could forgive her. Which, in my eyes, makes her a class act in the end.

We're talking about people in their early 20s who were all excited and nervous before their show. (The "you need to ask them if they're handicapped" discussion took place fifteen minutes before their show started.) It was offensive and I'm glad it's not going to be an ongoing problem. But, in my view, these guys deserve a second chance. They don't need to become pariahs or be run out of the NYC theatre community. I think they're very aware that they stepped out of bounds and said some hurtful things.

Thanks again for all your help.
posted by grumblebee at 8:14 AM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


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