Lawn Seating Protest

More than a dozen people gathered in front of Virginia’s Verizon Wireless Virginia Beach Amphitheater October 20th, demanding that the venue’s lawn be accessible to physically disabled people.

Protestors gathered just hours before that night’s Def Leppard / Bryan Adams co-bill, most carrying signs demanding equal access, according to The Virginian-Pilot.

“We belong on the lawn like everyone else,” Jennifer Thornburg – a member of the Young Endependent Advocates, which has been lobbying for changes at the shed – told the paper.

City official Mark Wawner disagreed, reportedly saying disabled patrons already have access to a variety of seating at cheaper lawn-ticket prices throughout the venue.

Wawner added that lawn seating remains off-limits because it isn’t safe for the physically challenged. Allowing wheelchairs on the grassy hill, which seats 13,500 and slopes down from 60 feet, would be a liability, he said.

“What would you do with a 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 amphitheatre.”

Changes were made to the venue eight years ago as a result of an agreement between the city and Endependence Center Inc., a Norfolk-based advocacy group for the disabled, The Virginian-Pilot reported.

In 1996, the center sued the facility, alleging it violated federal design regulations on seating, concessions, telephones, signs, parking, walkways, ramps and toilet facilities. In ’97, the city agreed to the requested design changes.

Although that agreement didn’t address lawn seating, the issue was reportedly a major point of contention during the original complaint.

“It’s just been very frustrating because if we weren’t physically dependent on anything, we could be on the lawn,” Thornburg said.

Stephen Johnson, executive director of the Endependence Center, suggested that a $60,000 stair lift be installed to accommodate the disabled.

“When you look at the profits of the amphitheatre, $60,000 would be a drop in the bucket,” Johnson told the paper, adding that a railing system could be installed around the lawn as a safety precaution.

A proposed change to the Americans with Disabilities Act eventually could force the shed to open its lawn seating to disabled patrons, Johnson said. But the provision, which would require lawn seating areas to be connected to an accessible route, has not yet been approved by the Justice Department.

Venue officials did not return calls at press time.