NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest is part of a lawsuit filed by a wheelchair-bound man who says organizers have't gone far enough in providing accessibility to patrons with disabilities.
Mitchell Miraglia filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Louisiana against New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit organization that owns the festival, and AEG Live, the concert promotor for the festival. In the lawsuit, Miraglia claims that the festival has not complied with the requirements of a 2001 settlement agreement made with the U.S. Department of Justice to bring the event into compliance with Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Miraglia is not seeking damages from the festival and festival promoter, but “wants a better experience for all disabled folks.”
Miraglia suffers from cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around. In his lawsuit, he cites a number of infractions by the festival to not provide accessibility to people with disabilities that were discovered by a private investigator.
Areas cited include not enough reserved wheelchair spaces at some of the stages as well as poor location for wheelchair viewing at the stages. The suit also names the height and width at food, beverage and craft counters unacceptable for people with disabilities. Dirt roads were also said to be unpassable during rain, and no access was provided for wheelchairs to grassy areas.
Miraglia also has filed two suits alleging the public transit system in New Orleans is not ADA compliant.
“The local spike in ADA lawsuits seems to reflect a growing national trend of serial litigants taking advantage of the Americans with Disabilities Act to force small businesses into settlements," Melissa Landry, executive director at the Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, told the Louisiana Record. “From New York to California, small businesses are being sued by plaintiffs alleging their business are not ADA compliant, simply because a bathroom mirror is not low enough or parking spaces aren’t painted just right. In some instance, plaintiffs have even sued eight or nine businesses in a single day. This growing trend is truly unfortunate."
To provide more accessibility to people with disabilities, festival organizers started the Jazz Fest Access Program 17 years ago. The program has expanded over the years and has gained national recognition as the standard for event accessibility. Through the program, the festival has altered its venues to be more wheelchair accessible, adding ramps, crossways and asphalt. It also offers disabled patrons assisted-listening devices, service animal registration, maps of accessible toilets and American Sign Language-interpreted performances.
“The Jazz Fest Access Program is an award-winning, nationally recognized model for event access planning that seeks to ensure that older festivalgoers and people with disabilities can enjoy the festival as much as other patrons,” Landry said.
In Miraglia’s lawsuit he asks the court to order the festival to make changes to come in compliance with ADA. He also asks that the defendants pay his legal fees, and award relief as they “deem necessary, just and proper.”
“The goal of the ADA is to improve access to people with disabilities, not profits for personal injury trial lawyers," Landry said. "Nevertheless, the threat of civil litigation is real. Abusive, drive-by ADA lawsuit abuse must be stopped. In addition, businesses should assess whether they need to take more steps to be compliant and help protect themselves from the abuse."