June is a very busy time for graduation ceremonies, a time for celebration and creating lifetime memories with family and friends. Not all graduations are pleasant experiences for individuals with disabilities. Recently I received a call from a mother asking questions about ADA requirements for accessible seating and the number of companions that can accompany a person with a disability in the accessible seating area at a ceremony. “I attended my daughter’s high school graduation with 3 of my family members at a fairgrounds. Each student is issued six tickets to attend graduation. When I arrived in my wheelchair, a guard explained that only one family member could sit with me in the accessible section and everyone else would have to sit in a different location in the grandstand. I tried to explain that the ADA allows 3 companions to sit with me. However, the guard said it was the policy of the high school to allow only one companion and that was the rule.”

The caller further explains, “In addition, not only did they attempt to separate me from two family members, they stated that I could not sit in a location of our choosing even though all able-bodied attendees were given a choice to sit in the best viewing space to see their graduate. Again, the guard cited school policy. I further explained the law in more detail but that only resulted in an intense argument with staff. They threatened me with “going to get the manager,” but finally let me sit with my family in a location of my choosing in the accessible seating section. I observed that there were plenty of empty rows in the accessible section and my family was not taking up space for other people with disabilities.

Last year I had a similar situation at my other child’s graduation and was not able to sit with my family. This year I was determined that my family and I were not going to be separated and I was not going to be ‘parked’ in a location of the staff’s choosing where I could not see my child graduate.”

To address these issued, Title II Section 35.138, ticketing regulations apply to graduation where tickets are distributed to a family. The spirit and intent of the ADA is to provide equal access for people with disabilities. It is estimated that more than 21% of Americans 15 and over, and 50% of Americans 65 and older have a disability (Census 2010). No person with any type of disability should be prevented or discouraged from attending or fully and equally participating in an event based on accessibility. Event planners must work with attendees and presenters in an interactive fashion so the most appropriate accommodations can be provided.
Many of the calls the ADA Center receives are based on complaints stemming from poor customer service, where individuals with disabilities are treated rudely and concerns about accessibility are disregarded. Individuals with disabilities do not want to file complaints; they just want access to the same service or program as everyone else. Our goal is to provide information an technical assistance based on regulations and common-sense to improve access. The following are strategies an event planner can use to provide equal access.

How to provide excellent customer service for people of all abilities attending graduation. 

The key to equal access and good customer service is planning ahead. Develop an accessibility plan for all events and venues. Designate an “accessibility coordinator” to oversee all phases of the event from planning to completion. This role is especially important for larger events where many diverse elements must be managed. Consider getting input from people with disabilities. This plan will promote a positive and enjoyable graduation ceremony for all patrons.  Please keep in mind ADA requirements are the MINIMUM standards for accessibility. Consider strategies and ideas beyond what the ADA requires, with an end goal of achieving universal access.

ADA regulations state that a public entity shall make available for purchase 3 additional tickets for seats in the same row that are contiguous with the wheelchair space, provided that at the time of purchase or distribution there are 3 such seats available. Individuals with disabilities are not required to provide proof of disability when purchasing a ticket for accessible seating. For the sale of single-event tickets, sellers may only ask whether the ticket is for an individual who has a disability jthat requires the features of accessible seating. 

The 2010 regulations make clear that a facility cannot limit the number of companion seats an individual with a disability may purchase, unless other individuals are so limited (e.g., for conference play-offs where all purchasers are limited to four tickets). Individuals with disabilities must be able to purchase the same number of tickets as other patrons, but the revised regulations do not require that all the companions be located in a wheelchair 


Dana Gover, MPA, and ACTCP Certification, ADA Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator 

For more information about ADA Technical Assistance visit the NW ADA Center Idaho website:
Phone: Voice and Text 208-841-9422
Idaho Relay Service: 7