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How Do Wheelchair Spaces in Assembly Rooms Affect AV?

Posted on 5/28/2019 7:00:00 PM by Legrand AV Team

I recently attended a comedy show at a large venue with a family member who has been wheelchair bound for the past six years. As it was in an area that usually hosts concerts and football games, we weren’t sure what to expect when we ordered accessible tickets.

The venue definitely wasn’t following ADA compliance guidelines when it came to accessibility. For one, the only way to get accessible seating was to order by phone, which added another charge to the ticket price compared to buying online. The wheelchair area was a makeshift platform built out over a section of seats. The seating arrangement made it difficult to watch the comedian without twisting uncomfortably to see the projected image of him as he performed.

All in all, it was an experience in what not to do. When one in four adults have a disability, including 3.2 million people in the U.S. with visual impairment, we need to remember that accessibility IS usability. Without one, the other doesn’t happen. If you have both together, you’ve made encounters with everyday life a little easier. AV design is a big part of that.

Another event I was recently at, a marketing conference, included large projection screens with live video of the presenter along with captions written on the screens as they spoke. This sort of attention to detail isn’t common at conferences, but it was extremely appreciated by people like me who sometimes struggle with hearing clearly. It made the event so much better, and I definitely want to attend again in the future.

Keep wheelchairs and other accessibility needs in mind when designing and specifying AV in a large venue like an assembly area. To do so successfully, it is vital to find out where the architect or interior designer has designated wheelchair spaces, and to understand the ADA requirements.

There are two parts to the ADA, when it comes to wheelchair spaces in assembly areas:

  • Section 221 explains the number of wheelchair spaces to chairs in such areas.
  • Section 802 details the space requirements and sightlines for people in wheelchair spaces.


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Why it Matters to AV

“Much of the requirements for Sections 221 and 802 are really the responsibility of the architect and/or interior designer,” said Mike Tomei, CTS-D/I, owner of Tomei AV Consulting LLC. “But issues such as sightlines matter to AV designers, because you want to be sure that people with disabilities can see the room’s displays clearly. For this reason, AV people need to work closely with architects and interior designers to ensure the sightlines from all wheelchair spaces are ADA-compliant.”

This table, which is based on a chart within the ADA, describes how many wheelchair spaces are needed under Section 221:

A table showing the number of wheelchair spaces required based on the number of total seats in an auditorium.


According to ADA Section 221, “Wheelchair spaces shall be an integral part of the seating plan.” This means that these spaces must be integrated in overall seating, rather than segregated into a separate area(s).

Ensuring Proper Sightlines

For sightlines (Section 802), wheelchair spaces must be located so their occupants can see clearly over the heads of nondisabled spectators on the levels below them. If the people below are expected to stand from time to time as part of the audience experience, the wheelchair spaces must be high enough above them to maintain clear sightlines. If there are captions to be projected on the screen at the event, make sure a person in a wheelchair in the designated location will be able to see the bottom of that screen without obstruction.

Illustration of field of view in an auditorium for people in chairs and a person in a wheelchair. 


Area Size Matters

The numbers that matter most:

  • A single wheelchair space must be at least 36 inches wide.
  • Where two or more wheelchair spaces are side-by-side, each one must be at least 33 inches wide.
  • If the space is entered from the front or back, it must be at least 48 inches deep. If the chair comes in from the side, it must be a minimum of 60 inches deep.

Other crucial wheelchair space requirements:

  • Wheelchair spaces must be beside, not in, accessible paths and circulation routes. You can’t put them in the aisle.
  • Seats for companions of wheelchairs have to provide “shoulder alignment with adjacent wheelchair spaces,” stated ADA Section 802, to provide a sense of inclusion for wheelchair users. The shoulder alignment point of the wheelchair space is measured 36 inches from the front of the wheelchair space.
  • The floor elevation for the wheelchair space and companion seats have to be the same.

These last points may be architectural, but savvy AV designers will keep an eye out to ensure such spaces are ADA-compliant. Be a friend. Help an architect.

Save An Architect. Save Yourself.

WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW: If these wheelchair spaces are not laid out properly and the designer installs AV equipment into these spaces, they will have to redo the installation when the ADA violation is noticed. Once the architect has moved the designated wheelchair spaces to meet ADA standards to correct the violation, you’ll have to return to ensure the AV system accounts for the new design.

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Want to know more about the ADA and AV intersection? We have an ebook for that. Visit our ADA page to download it today.