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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Madison Square Garden Disability Policy

I went to see Cornell University play against the University of Michigan at eh famed MAdison Square Garden. This game was advertised as the Frozen Apple. Both universities have excellent hockey programs and multiple NHL first round draft choices were on the ice. As some may know the NHL has locked out its players and the season is most likely going to be lost. I went to MSG for two reasons: first, I miss watching hockey and the opportunity to see NCAA is unique. Second, I was eager to check out the newly renovated garden. I was impressed by the renovations. The garden is no longer an antiquated facility. One result of these impressive renovations is expensive food--expensive even by stadium standards. I drank a $9 Budweiser and ate a hot dog for $6.50. My son had a $5 coke. Yes one beer, one coke and two hot dogs cost $27. We got off cheap. You cannot imagine how much a lobster roll, sushi or sandwich from Carnegie Deli costs.  

While we had great fun, I was deeply disturbed by the way handicapped seating is managed. The area we sat in was outstanding, section 108. This area is accessed by a small elevator clearly marked for disabled patrons only. We exited the elevator and a ramp immediately to the right goes down to handicapped seating. Wow, what a great view. I will happily deal with the inconvenience of having to use an elevator to get beer or food and use the rest room for the kind of view of the ice I had. I thought to myself, after decades of bad service and lousy seating the garden finally got it. There is real handicapped seating! Not so fast. The usher asks to see my ticket and shows me where to sit with my son and explains you must sit all the way back and against the wall. I am deeply puzzled. Here we are in a great secured area that is about 6 feet deep and at least twice as long if not more. Directly in front of me is a glass half wall. Yet the usher has told me I cannot under any circumstances sit by the glass. I must sit as far back as possible. This is nothing short of bizarre. If I sat all the way back against the wall at least four to five feet of empty space exists. I told the usher this makes no sense. She replied "this is the policy", a phrase I would hear over and over again. The usher was polite but unyielding--you must sit all the way back against the wall not in front next to the glass. She told me if I sat forward next to the glass I would block the view from the luxury boxes behind handicapped seating. Luxury boxes that were empty and incomplete. I was annoyed and went to speak to a supervisor. The supervisor said yes the usher is correct, sitting all the way back away from the glass is the "policy". She suggested I see customer relations. I see the supervisors supervisor and after waiting he appears. I explain the situation, he leaves and comes back ten minutes later. Sorry I am told that is the "policy". No one can explain the "policy" or the reasoning behind it. The second supervisor is clearly bored and does not care. I told this man every person in handicapped seating has complained though I am the only person in the section using a wheelchair. Again I get a sorry but this is the "policy".  Talking to a wall would be more productive.

I have been to professional hockey games in Washington, Boston, New Jersey, Toronto, and many other cities. In newly constructed or renovated buildings patrons sit directly in front of the glass half wall in handicapped seating sections. This is common sense. Sitting back against the wall several feet from the glass half wall at the garden is strange in the extreme. Never have I heard of this "policy". Each person in handicapped seating expressed the same sentiment--the policy makes no sense. As I watched the game I thought of an analogy: a man builds a brand new addition to his house. The addition is spectacular. But when the work is done the man lives on the porch outside the addition. The point here is the handicap section I was in at the garden was outstanding. Great sight lines from the glass half wall could and should be enjoyed. Moreover there is lots of room to move around and we were not shoved together like sardines. The great sight lines are significantly impaired sitting four to five feet away from the glass half wall. In fact when one sits so far back when patrons in front of the handicap section stand you can see absolutely nothing. Even when those in front are sitting in their seats about 15 to 20% of the ice is not visible. Again, this is from four to five feet away from the glass half wall where on should logically sit.

I really am perplexed. The supervisors clearly did not care and refused to make any accommodation or offer a logical explanation for the "policy".  It appears to me a person with no knowledge of handicapped seating created an arbitrary "policy" that makes no sense. Supervisors and ushers are powerless to help or explain the "policy". Given the long history of inadequate handicap seating I was thrilled by the new handicap section. Yet the garden screwed this up royally. I am going to contact the garden this week and write a pointed email. I am hopeful the response will be positive--part of working the kinks out of a new building. If I am given the run around I will file a formal complaint with the DOJ.


Jo Kelly said...

If people in this world would spend 1/2 the time LEARNING that they put into developing asinine policies for/about us ..... man this would be a different place. I particularly enjoy the airlines - they always seemed to have a new policy every week. Once I was not allowed to sit beside my own son - cause I was a danger to him!

elf said...

Hello Bad C.,

No fair, hockey is best seen as close as you can get to the glass!


Anonymous said...

Not the same at all - but I ran into another issue @ Notre Dame (football). The wheelchair sitting area was actually pretty nice, but I went with a group (3 of us) and only one "extra" person could sit next/in the wheelchair area.
So, our group had to break up - I eventually convinced my friends to go to their seats and leave me by myself rather than leave someone stranded in the stands.
That was "policy". At least I understood WHERE that policy came from. The wheelchair area was superior to many of the seats.
Hopefully MSG will respond in a useful & thoughtful way to your pointed email.

Jo Kelly said...

It's easy to understand the policy but it really sucks that you can only go to an event with one person EVER. And I am so sick of that friend being addressed as my "attendant". And what about families....what do they do? Thank goodness I only had one kid or I would have been fighting this battle all along.

Emily Davis said...

Policies can certainly be a good thing, but I think that those revolving around disability issues MUST include some flexibility and room for discretion. The needs of people with disabilities can be SO widespread and different that is seems logically impossible to create one overarching policy that is fair to everyone. Let people use their own judgement! That means both the staff at a given company AND the customers who may or may not have disabilities.
I had a friend flying back from Jordan who was told by the flight staff that she was "too disabled to fly" and therefore needed a doctor's note saying it was ok. They judged her simply because of the way she looked, because she uses an electric wheelchair. But I personally have been on a flight that had to make an emergency landing because a pregnant woman went into labor at 30,000 feet. They didn't label her as too disabled to fly even though her "condition" was far less safe than my buddy using a wheelchair to get around, but the woman and the staff were given the choice to use their discretion. Why is the same not true for disabled patrons?
I also have a blog that I use to educate my friends, family, and colleagues about the need to stop labeling and start learning. I'd love feedback from you and your readers, so please check me out at and share your thoughts!