Thursday, April 19, 2012

Springsteen Reprise: How I Got Accessible Tickets and What I Learned in the Process

I finally got tickets to see Bruce Springsteen next week in Los Angeles.
Twitter and Facebook, I was contacted by the venue, the LA Memorial Coliseum and Sports Arena. Voila, I purchased two tickets -- a wheelchair and a companion spot.
While I am beyond thrilled that I will get to see The Boss on his Wrecking Ball tour, I realize this: My success was a small step (roll?) for this disabled person but, still, a giant disappointment.
I learned a lot about concert venues making accommodations for the handicapped, what they are required to do and what they do.  And it’s not pretty out there.
My friend, blogger Jennifer Longdon, uses a wheelchair and advocates for the disabled in Phoenix. When she shared my blog link on her Facebook page, many people weighed in on the plight of the disabled who want to attend concerts.
It turns out there are revised American with Disabilities Act regulations  with specific requirements for this. It governs how many seats must be accommodating, how many companion seats you can buy with an accessible seat and rules regarding resale.
Here is an intro from the ADA explaining why such rules are needed:
Over the past 20 years, some public and private venues, ticket sellers, and distributors have not provided the same opportunity to purchase tickets for wheelchair-accessible seats and non-accessible seats. The general public has been able to directly and immediately purchase tickets for non-accessible seats, whether through a venue's Internet site or its box office, or through a third-party Internet based vendor. However, these direct purchase options have simply been unavailable to many individuals with disabilities because transactions frequently could not be completed. Instead the purchaser was directed to send an e-mail or to call a separate telephone number to request tickets and wait for a response. These burdensome policies still exist, making it difficult or impossible for those who require accessible seats to purchase tickets, especially for popular events that sell out in minutes. As of March 15, 2011, venues that sell tickets for assigned seats must implement policies to comply with the new ticketing requirements.
Admirable. Right?
The reality is things are still tough. Compliance is inconsistent. And the loopholes are big enough to steer a wheelchair through.
Disabled people from across the country on Facebook reported a mix of successes and disappointments. Some said they would just show up at concerts and raise hell. Jennifer said she once won up-close concert tickets only to be told there was no way to exchange them for accessible seating. Some said they came to arenas with general admission tickets and demanded to be accommodated. In some cases, this worked. Venue staffers would remove folding chairs so they could sit up front. One time, a woman reported, one of Tom Petty’s security guys moved her wheelchair past a barrier so she could see.
In another case, Jennifer went to a show with a general admission ticket. She was told all the accessible seats were taken and she was “a public safety hazard” without an actual seat. She left.
I’m not brave enough to do that and gamble that it might work out. It’s hard enough for me to sit up and search for tickets via the computer and phone. It's a huge pain to get from point A to point B for disabled people and particularly to visit a busy venue when you might be turned away.
One woman said after driving two hours to see "Shrek the Musical", she was told she could sit in her wheelchair in the orchestra section while her child could sit in the balcony. She refused to leave and they accommodated her.
Another time, she said, a venue told her she could not sit next to her friend because there was no spot for two wheelchairs together in the whole arena. She demanded they remove folding chairs to fit them in.
ADA regulations says accessible seats must be sold during the same hours, methods and stages as non-accessible seats.
In the case of the Bruce tickets, these rules were followed. I learned that no box office tickets could be sold over the phone, but Ticketmaster had a disabled seating request system.
Although I acted with warp speed when the tickets went on sale,  I was told twice by Ticketmaster that accessible seats were all gone. Each email said they had checked with the venue to confirm that there were none of these seats left. When I made another attempt a few weeks later (because sometimes additional seats become available) I was told the same thing. And again they said they had checked with the venue to confirm this.
Still trying to find tickets, I called the number on the venue’s page regarding accessibility. I was stuck in recorded message hell: after I listened to the Press 1, Press 2 spiel and waited to speak to a live person, the call would loop back to the beginning.
After I forwarded my blog post to the LA Coliseum Facebook page, an employee there contacted me, apologized and connected me with the box office where I easily bought accessible tickets.
When I later asked him why I had been told three times that all the accessible tickets were sold out and that they had confirmed this with the venue, he said he didn’t know why Ticketmaster said that.
Some of the Facebook friends recommended disabled folks contact the venue a few days ahead of when tickets go on sale. The LA Coliseum guy said it is always advisable for disabled fans to call the venue directly.
Providing you can get through.
While I applaud the improvements the ADA requirements put in place, I did notice some problems. 
-- No one is required to  prove disability to purchase an accessible ticket. Not sure how it would work if you had to. But at least attesting to the fact you need accommodations might weed out some of the cheaters.
This opens the door for scalpers to gobble up seats and sell them to others not needing accommodations, screwing the truly needy out of a chance to find tickets.
-- Accessible seats are permitted to be resold to non-handicapped fans. But I couldn’t find any on Craigslist, Stubhub or two other resale sites.
-- But a disabled person buying a non-accessible seat through a secondary market must be permitted by the venue to exchange a seat for an accessible one, when available. Huge caveat.
-- A venue may move a patron to another seat in order to give that spot to a person with a disability who requires it.
But the regulation includes another phrase, which negates the rule itself, saying the venue “is not obligated to do so.” 
-- A venue must save a percentage of accessible seats for disabled fans, but can release them and sell them as general public seats when all non-accessible seats have been sold, all seats in a particular section have been sold or all seats in a price category have been sold.
“However, venues are not required to release accessible seats and may choose to hold back all or a portion of the remaining accessible seats.”
In other words, it’s a crapshoot.