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Ensuring Accessibility: Our Approach to ADA Requirements in Venues

At Sheridan Seating, we know that a thoughtfully planned venue designed with accessibility in mind can help ensure everyone can participate.

Ensuring Accessibility: A Guide to ADA Requirements in Venues

Did you know that up to 1 in 4 adults in North America live with some type of disability? Ranging from mobility issues to physical and mental health challenges, people with disabilities may be prevented from actively participating in daily activities.

The good news is that small changes to the spaces around us can make our environment much more welcoming, regardless of a person’s ability. At Sheridan Seating, we know that a thoughtfully planned venue designed with accessibility in mind can help ensure everyone can participate.

Accessibility in public venues, especially those with retractable seating, is essential. These venues are entertainment stages and community hubs where diverse audiences can gather and share collective experiences. Ensuring that everyone can participate in the excitement of events regardless of their abilities is a responsibility that goes beyond legal requirements – it speaks to the fundamental principles of equity and community engagement.

When it comes to spectator seating, we also know that creating a functional and welcoming multi-use space takes creativity, ingenuity, and a strong understanding of the laws and regulations governing the building code.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one such guiding document. Enacted to ensure equal access and opportunities for individuals with disabilities, the ADA is a legal framework that describes the requirements for making public spaces welcoming for all – despite differences in physical abilities. In Canada, similar laws exist and are outlined in The Accessible Canada Act (ACA).

ADA Title III, focusing on public accommodations, establishes the foundation for creating accessible environments in public venues. The ADA’s specific requirements related to seating reaffirm the need for equal access to entertainment and recreational activities for all.

Key ADA Considerations for Venues with Spectator Seating

The ADA is an extensive piece of legislation that provides a detailed guide on how to appropriately design and build an inclusive public space. The Sheridan Seating team is well-versed in code requirements in jurisdictions across North America and can lend a helping hand as you begin planning your next project.

To get you started, here are four critical areas of ADA compliance that must be met:

1. Minimum accessible seating spaces required: Ensuring ADA compliance involves providing a minimum number of wheelchair-accessible spaces. This number varies based on the total seating capacity of a venue.

The chart below outlines how many accessible seats are required based on the number of seats in a venue:

Number of Seats Minimum Number of Wheelchair Spaces
4 to 25 1
26 to 50 2
51 to 150 4
151 to 300 5
301 to 500 6
501 to 5,000 6, plus one for each additional 150 seats between 501 and 5,000
5001 and over, 36, plus 1 for each 200 seats over 5,000

The minimum space required for wheelchair seating varies depending on the layout of the seating area. A single-wide wheelchair space requires at least 36” of clearance, and a double wheelchair space must be at least 66” wide. For forward or rear access wheelchair spaces, you must plan for the space to be at least 48” deep and a side access space must be at least 60” deep.

Venues should recognize the value of offering more accessible seating options than the minimum required. Providing a variety of choices empowers individuals, families, and groups to select seats that best suit their preferences, promoting a sense of autonomy and inclusivity.

Our expert sales team can help you maximize your available seating and plan a functional and welcoming space for a variety of individual and group visitors.

2. Sightline considerations for wheelchair users: An often-overlooked aspect of accessibility is sightlines for patrons using wheelchairs. Placing accessible bleachers in locations that offer unobstructed views ensures that all patrons, regardless of their physical abilities, have an optimal viewing experience.

By prioritizing sightlines, venues not only adhere to ADA standards but also contribute to the overall enjoyment of the event. It reinforces the idea that everyone should have an equal opportunity to savour the excitement of the game, concert, or performance.

3. Companion seating and integration with general seating areas: Companion seating is critical to designing a wheelchair-friendly venue. It ensures disabled individuals can share the experience with friends and family like any other guest. Integrating companion seating seamlessly with general seating areas promotes a sense of unity and inclusivity within the venue.

In your ADA-compliant venue, each wheelchair space must have an adjacent companion seat, which may be fixed or removable. Companion seats must be on the same floor surface (i.e., within the same seating row) and allow guests to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with one another. To achieve acceptable positioning, deeper row spacing may be required for the wheelchair row. This will vary by the design and construction of the seating area.

4. Guardrails, Handrails and Stairs: Handrails play a crucial role for individuals with balance or movement challenges, ensuring safe navigation within your venue and helping to mitigate the severity of any falls that do occur. The ADA has outlined minimum code requirements for guardrails and handrails, stating that they must be a minimum of 36” high, maintaining a 42” space between the top of the rail and the nearest stair tread.

Handrails are required on stairs, ramps, or surfaces with over a five percent incline and must be of consistent height ranging from 34” to 38” above the ground. In child-centric spaces, like schools, a second handrail, positioned at 28” is also required. Continuous handrails are required in all designated areas.

In venues with retractable seating solutions, removable ADA rails are acceptable when ADA spaces need to be recovered for standard seating.

Sheridan Seating has extensive experience designing, manufacturing and installing fixed and retractable ADA rails. We go into more detail about the safety devices available with our seating systems on the Accessories page on our website.

Offering different types of accessible seating, such as low-rise bleachers and portable seating options, recognizes the diverse needs of disabled patrons. This variety also empowers individuals to choose the seating option that aligns with their preferences, which helps to promote a more personalized and enjoyable experience.

Challenges and Solutions in Retrofitting Venues for Accessibility

When retrofitting a venue to meet ADA requirements, you may run into several challenges. These could include physical constraints, design limitations, and balancing accessibility upgrades with preserving the venue’s original seating capacity.

At Sheridan Seating, we have a unique understanding of these challenges and know that identifying them at the outset of planning is the first step toward creating an effective solution. Before you begin your renovation project, we recommend conducting a thorough accessibility audit, including consulting with an accessibility expert and engaging with your community to gather valuable insights into your renovation’s specific considerations.

Solutions may involve incorporating adjustable seating configurations, installing low-rise bleachers, and implementing portable seating options to ensure the seating needs of your community can be met. These adaptations not only enhance accessibility but also contribute to a more dynamic and flexible seating environment. Sheridan Seating offers a wide range of retractable, fixed and portable seating types to venues needing flexible seating retrofit solutions. We would happily work with you from the outset to develop the best solution for your space.

Most importantly, retrofitting efforts should be guided by a commitment to inclusivity and a thorough understanding of the unique needs of guests with disabilities. Considering the potential benefits of community engagement and compliance reinforces the idea that accessibility is an investment in the venue’s long-term success.

ADA Best Practices for New Venue Design and Construction

Designing new venues with inclusivity in mind also involves integrating universal design principles from the outset. This includes considering the needs of patrons with disabilities at every stage of the design process, from seating arrangements to overall facility accessibility.

Collaborating with architects and seating vendors who specialize in universal design, like Sheridan Seating, and consulting with accessibility experts during the planning phases of your project ensures that inclusivity is woven into the fabric of the venue. By embracing inclusive design principles, new venues can set a standard for accessibility.

Legal Implications of Non-Compliance

While ensuring your venue is safe and accessible for everyone is essential from a values perspective, it’s also non-negotiable from a legal perspective. Non-compliance with ADA requirements can have significant legal and reputational consequences for venue owners. Failing to meet accessibility standards may violate federal law and hinders a venue’s ability to provide an inclusive space for all.

To avoid legal pitfalls, we recommend working with trusted and licensed professionals. Conducting regular accessibility audits, staying informed about updated ADA regulations, and implementing necessary modifications are also crucial steps. By prioritizing accessibility, you can prevent legal issues and demonstrate your commitment to the diverse communities your space serves.

Delivering the Best Seat in the House for Every Guest

From sports arenas to concert halls and everything in between, venue owners are responsible for creating spaces that allow everyone to participate fully. Prioritizing accessible seating is a commitment to ensuring equal opportunities for all patrons to engage in the shared experiences hosted within the venue – and Sheridan Seating can help your space deliver!

If you’re looking for support with planning a seating upgrade for your venue or have a new build space in the works, our experienced customer service representatives would be happy to help.

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