Local clashes with Wheeler over spot for his wheelchair | AspenTimes.com

Local clashes with Wheeler over spot for his wheelchair

A local citizen who is confined to a wheelchair has complained that the Wheeler Opera House staff would not make it convenient for him to attend a movie at the historic venue.

Peter Hershorn said he was treated rudely and told to sit in the back of the theater, where the motion picture screen is only partially visible, when he and a friend went to the Wheeler Monday evening. But a manager at the Wheeler says the theater goes out of its way to accommodate people with various disabilities, and Hershorn only had problems because he came late to the screening.

Hershorn said he and Dr. Gary Brazina went to the Wheeler to see “The Red Violin” on Monday, and he was told he’d have to sit in the back of the theater. He said from there the view of the screen is partially blocked by the balcony, and he refused to sit there.

He said house manager Stephanie Sommers told him the Wheeler’s staff will ordinarily remove seats along the aisle about halfway back to provide a space for wheelchair-bound patrons, but the theater must be notified in advance. Sommers refused to provide that service because the movie had already started.

“I’m not calling in advance to go to a movie,” Hershorn said. The Stage 3 Theatres provides space for wheelchairs at all times, he noted.

“That’s not ADA regulations,” Hershorn said. “That’s treating me like a second-class citizen.” (The ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal law mandating accommodations for people with various disabilities.) He said the last time that sort of thing happened to him was about 26 years ago.

Hershorn said Sommers told him he couldn’t sit in the side aisle because it’s against fire regulations. He said he listened as Brazina tried to reason with Sommers and other staff members, but he finally lost patience.

“I finally told the lady, `I’m going to sit where I want to, and if you don’t like it, you can call a cop,’ ” Hershorn said. He said Sommers’ reply was, “We’ll let you do it this time.” He sat in the side aisle.

Sommers could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Chris Hipp, operations manager for the Wheeler, said the opera house provides numerous services for disabled customers.

“We don’t discourage disabled patrons at all,” she said. “We’re happy to accommodate.” She said the Wheeler will provide large-print programs or even provide a sign-language translator if it’s requested. The theater has allowed seeing-eye dogs for concerts, too.

She said the theater has signs at the box office which say, “If you require disabled seating, please notify the box office at the time of ticket purchase.”

She said seats can be removed to provide wheelchair space either at the side, as Hershorn noted, or in row DD, which is either the front row or the fourth row, depending on how the theater is set up.

“The problem we’ve had is with people arriving either just before the show or late, without previous notification,” she said. “Even 15 minutes before the show is enough time to pull a seat.”

But the seats must be unbolted from the floor, she said, which can’t be done during a performance without disturbing the other patrons.

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