Access to old buildings

As a corollary to my posting about the Academy of Ancient Music concert, I’ll give Macky Auditorium at CU Boulder kudos for their accomodations for wheelchair using patrons.

Macky was originally built in 1914. Parking is extremely limited. The site is hilly, and the auditorium rake is very steep. The entrance to the lobby is via narrow double doors. Despite these disadvantages, attending concerts at Macky is a pleasurable rather than frustrating experience.

What makes the difference here is not the architectural modifications that have been made, although there are some, but the education and awareness of the staff, starting with ticket sales.

When I bought tickets for wheelchair seats over the phone, the seller was careful to let me know about special parking arrangements for holders of disabled permits. When I arrived, the parking attendent, as a matter of routine, directed me to park on the street in front of the building, normally a restricted area. I entered the building via an unobtrusive ramp that has been added to the side of the stairs. Inside, the ticket taker moved her podium and opened the second door quickly to allow room for the wheelchair to enter – no hunting around for an elusive key.

There are numerous staff people in the lobby; when they see a person using a mobility aid they are quick to offer assistance, but they do not insist on it. The slope of the aisle is much too steep for most wheelchair users and frail elderly people; the staff are happy to take the wheelchair down (backwards!) and come fetch you after the concert if you would like. I even observed an usher escorting an elderly gentleman out during intermission for a breath of fresh air!

There is cut out wheelchair seating at several price points in the orchestra, with good sight lines to the stage. Additional seats can be removed if necessary.

Macky Auditorium is an example of how disabled patrons can be welcomed and accomodated without destroying historic architecture – it would be great to see more performing arts facilities adopting the same attitude and methods.


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