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United Artist Movie Chain settles With Disabled


Kathy Peck

A landmark settlement for the American with Disabilities Act was reached April 16 in two discrimination suits Wheelchair Access (Arnold vs. UA) and Assistive Listening Devices (Peck vs. UA) against United Artists theaters that will give disabled people unimpeded access to its movie theaters across the nation.

The settlement between one of the nation's largest theater chains and Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) a national disability rights group based in Berkeley resulted in improved wheelchair access and facilities for the hearing -impaired at its more than 400 theaters nationwide over the next six years.

The agreement was reached after the Department of Justice, which had initiated its own investigation into alleged bias in the United Artists theaters, joined the settlement talks. The details of the agreement were filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco April 16, and are expected to receive final approval in June.

In the Arnold vs. United Artists, United Artists agreed to remove walls separating wheelchair sections and give customers who use wheelchairs access to seats where they can sit with friends and relatives, rather than be segregated in the back row. In theaters with more than 300 seats, the chain must provide at least two accessible spaces in the middle sections of the theater. The theater also agreed to provide more seats with removable arms so people can transfer from wheelchairs. The agreement also provides improved parking, entryways, rest rooms, concessions stands, ticket booths, telephones and drinking fountains.

United Artists will pay the 12 plaintiffs a total of $71,000 and divide $429,000 between those who file claims showing that they were hampered by physical barriers in California theaters. The claims must be filed within 90 days of the date the final settlement is approved by a federal court judge. The settlement will ensure that people with disabilities can enter theaters and sit with their families and friends.

In Peck vs. United Artists, the plaintiffs contended that the chain's California theaters did not provide enough listening devices for hearing -impaired movie-goers. The chain already provides listening devices in its theaters as a result of the lawsuit, but has agreed to pay $75,000 to organizations in California that help the hearing impaired. Kathy Peck, executive director of H.E.A.R. and lead plaintiff of the Peck vs. United Artists lawsuit was pleased to learn of the settlement and added that the American with Disabilities Act is alive and well and living in California.

In an interview with Peter Fimrite of the Chronicle East Bay Bureau, Douglas Wolkin, the vice president of legal affairs for United Artists said, "United Artists is proud to be an industry leader in removing access barriers."

"This settlement...helps to create reasonable expectations in our patrons and demonstrates that when we all listen to one another good things can happen."

Brad Seligman, the lawyer for the disability rights fund, said that in the long run United Artists will benefit from the agreement because more people will have access to its theaters. We hope that this stands as a beacon for all other theaters chains in the United States.


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