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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.