AG Schneiderman Announces Agreements Requiring Three NYC Theatres To Provide Listening Devices To Individuals With Hearing Loss

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Manhattan Theatre Club, Atlantic Theater Company, School Of Visual Arts To Provide “Loops” And Other Assisted-Listening Devices To Comply With ADA.

New York, NY - May 5, 2014 - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced agreements requiring three New York City theatres to provide assistive listening devices to persons with hearing loss. The agreements reached with the Manhattan Theatre Club, the Atlantic Theater Company and the School of Visual Arts Theatre ensure that the companies will provide equal access to persons with hearing loss, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
 
“New Yorkers, and tourists from across the country, come to New York City to enjoy unparalleled theatre performances. They deserve equal treatment and equal access, as the law requires,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “These agreements help ensure that all of our theatres – from off-Broadway venues to the biggest theaters in Times Square – are complying with the law, and that theatergoers with hearing loss have full and equal enjoyment of the show.”
 
Tens of millions of people across the country experience some degree of hearing loss, the most commonly reported disability in the United States. In New York City, one in six adults reports experiencing hearing loss or other hearing problems. The ADA requires that theatres make available assistive listening systems with headsets or neckloops, which transmit sound to most hearing aids and cochlear implants -- to ensure that individuals with hearing loss have full and equal enjoyment of their facilities. The Attorney General's Office opened an investigation after receiving complaints from individuals and disability rights organizations that off-Broadway theatres did not provide assistive listening devices necessary to ensure that the hard of hearing have full access to theatrical performances. During its investigation, the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau found that these three theatres failed to provide assistive listening devices or sufficient numbers of assistive listening devices, as required by the ADA.
 
The Attorney General’s agreements with the Manhattan Theatre Club, the Atlantic Theater Company, and the SVA Theatre – which hosts the Tribeca Film Festival -- require the theatres to purchase and make available assistive listening devices, including devices that are compatible with hearing aids, to the full extent required by the ADA.  The theatres must also publicize the availability of the devices and provide training to employees responsible for making the devices available. The Manhattan Theatre Club and SVA Theatre have agreed to provide, free of charge, 24 seats to non-profit organizations that provide services to New Yorkers with disabilities over the next year. The seats will be distributed through a list of approved facilities. Atlantic Theatre Company agreed to other provisions to ensure that persons with disabilities are able to purchase accessible seats online, pursuant to ADA guidelines which require that the seating be made available in the same manner and through the same purchasing methods as other seating. Details of similar agreements relating to accessible ticket sales can be found here.
 
Under ADA guidelines established in 2010, theatre companies that provides amplified sound must also offer an assistive listening system for the hard of hearing. The rules do not apply to performances where microphones are not used.
 
Ellen Semel, of the Hearing Loss Association of America, New York City Chapter, said, “New Yorkers love the theatre, but when theatres do not provide communications accessibility, such as hearing aid-compatible assistive listening devices, they shut out audience members with hearing loss. The agreements secured by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are an important part of reconnecting theatres to this significant part of their audience.”
 
Anna Gillmore Hall, executive director of Hearing Loss Association of America, said, “Too often, the barriers faced by people with hearing loss are ignored. We thank the New York State Attorney General for his unwavering commitment to eliminating these barriers for all and fighting for our right to enjoy equal access to public accommodations."
 
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Mayur Saxena and Dariely Rodriguez of the Attorney General's Civil Rights Bureau, which is led by Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke. Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice is Alvin Bragg.
 
The Civil Rights Bureau of the Attorney General's Office is committed to protecting the disability rights of all New Yorkers. To file a civil rights complaint, contact the Attorney General’s Office at (212) 416-8250, civil.rights@ag.ny.gov or visit ag.ny.gov.
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