Protesters Demand Disabled Access To Lawn Seats At Virginia Beach

(CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — More than a dozen protesters gathered on a sidewalk at the entrance to the Verizon Wireless Virginia Beach Amphitheater on Thursday, October 20th, demanding that the shed’s lawn be accessible to handicapped people.

The protesters held signs and yelled to passing concertgoers starting just hours before a concert featuring Def Leppard and Bryan Adams was set to begin.

“We belong on the lawn like everyone else,” Jennifer Thornburg, who is confined to a wheelchair due to her cerebral palsy, told the Virginian-Pilot. She is a member of the Young Endependent Advocates, a group that has been lobbying for changes at the amphitheater for three years. “This is an equal rights issue.”

Mark Wawner, project manager for the Virginia Beach Development Authority, said disabled people already have access to a variety of seating at cheaper lawn ticket prices throughout the arena.

Lawn seating remains off-limits, he said, because it isn’t safe for the handicapped. Allowing wheelchairs on the grassy hill, which seats 13,500 and slopes down from 60 feet, would be a liability, he told the paper.

“What would you do with the wheelchair once you got it up there?” Wawner asked. “They would be stuck in a corner where they can’t move around. We have an obligation to provide a safe environment for all customers of the amphitheater.

Eight years ago, the theater made a host of changes following an agreement between the city and Endependence Center Inc., a Norfolk-based advocacy group for the disabled. In 1996, the center sued in federal court, alleging that the amphitheater did not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The center said that $18.5 million concert arena violated federal design regulations on seating, concessions, telephones, signs, parking, walkways, ramps and toilet facilities.

In 1997, the city agreed to the requested design changes, allowing disabled patrons fuller access to the concert venue.

The Endependence Center has suggested that a stair lift be installed on the side of the lawn to accommodate the disabled, which could be done for approximately $60,000.

“When you look at the profits of the amphitheater, $60,000 would be a drop in the bucket,” Stephen L. Johnson, executive director of the Endependence Center said to the paper.

A proposed change to the Americans with Disabilities Act eventually could force the amphitheater to open its lawn seating to handicapped people, he said.

In July 2004, the U.S. Access Board approved a provision that would require lawn seating areas to be connected to an accessible route. The Justice Department has not approved the provision. –by CelebrityAccess Staff Writers