Accessibility, Sound and ADA Compliance: Accommodating the Disabled

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) officially became a law on July 26, 1990 and ensures equal access and opportunity for all people with disabilities in the United States.   In the context of performing arts centers, aging audiences present the challenge of heightening accessibility to preserve loyal patron bases.  Design teams utilize various strategies to assure accessibility in new and renovated facilities.  AD is seeing a direct correlation between room acoustics and accessibility issues.  In short, making a room sound great can also make it more friendly for the disabled.

At University of Tennessee’s new Haslam Music Center, such a solution was implemented for its 400-seat recital hall.  A sunken low raked seating arrangement better allows sound to reach the audiences ears and also offers an easy egress for wheel chairs to access aisle seats at any row. 

Seating configuration with additional capacity along hall sides on the same level as the performance platform offers enhanced vantage point for audience members to connect aurally and visually with musicians.  This area also accommodates easy access to the platform in the event that someone is called from the house to the stage to receive an award.  These side aisles also allow for flexibility in seating with the use of non-fixed seats.  Chairs can be twisted and configured to suit a viewer’s comfort or removed to accommodate additional wheelchairs.

Performance technologies include features to serve those with hearing and vision disabilities.

Renovated historic spaces offer terrific natural acoustics but problematic accessibility factors.  Products are now available to help achieve accessibility without the burden of excessive construction costs.  One such product is a stairway that morphs to a wheel chair lift.

In the end, barriers that once presented challenges for disabled people to enjoy live performances are dissipating.  Now, greater diversity and inclusion can characterize the collective experience. 

Read about the Haslam Music Center project…

University of Tennessee