- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2001

Andrew Frank is not worried about the recent lawsuit settlement between the U.S. Justice Department and United Artists Theater Circuit that forces the mega-movie company to provide better seating for the disabled.

The president of Visions Cinema/Bistro/Lounge on Florida Avenue in Northwest says his independent movie house, which opened in August, is fully compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

"We actually put [wheelchair accessible seating] in the middle," says Mr. Frank. "They're the best seats in the house."

The settlement with United Artists, which was reached last week, means the movie theater chain will have to reconfigure their theaters to make wheelchair seating as good as the best 50 percent of the seats in the theater.

The Justice Department and several disability groups sued United Artists, one of the nation's largest theater chains, under the Americans With Disabilities Act, arguing that most people using wheelchairs are forced to sit in the front rows where they have to strain their necks to see the flick.

There are United Artists theaters in Fairfax, Bethesda and Columbia, Md.

United Artist officials could not be reached for comment.

Over the past decade the Justice Department has done extensive investigations on several movie chains and has filed lawsuits against those theaters in violation of the law.

Most recently the U.S. Attorney filed lawsuits against Boston-based Hoyts Cinemas Corp. and National Amusements Inc. of Dedham, Mass., calling for the chains to build theaters with new stadium-style seating to comply with the law and renovate existing theaters to accommodate disabled patrons.

Hoyts Cinemas can be found in Manassas, Alexandria and Bowie. National Amusements has theaters in Fairfax, Alexandria, Reston and Centreville.

Visions, which has replaced the old Cineplex Odeon Embassy Theatre, has two screens one with 100 seats and another with 200 seats. Each screen has room for four wheelchairs two spaces in the front row and two spaces in the middle. They each have accompanying regular seats next to them.

Visions does not have stadium-style seating but the rows of seats are on a slant. A special concrete section had to be poured so the handicap areas were flat.

Mr. Frank says he had to familiarize himself with the federal law but there was no doubt that his movie house would be compliant with the law.

"God forbid if I ever am in a wheelchair, I certainly would want equal access," Mr. Frank says.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which took effect in 1993, places of public accommodation, like movie theaters, must provide equal access to persons with disabilities.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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