As the manager of Lisner Auditorium at The George Washington University, I would like to respond to the Jan. 21 letter from Karen Freeman titled "Auditorium Seating for the Disabled." I am sympathetic to the concerns of disabled children, but there is another side to this story.
I admit we must enforce rules that cause inconvenience, but nonenforcement of those rules could mean disaster. We must keep theater aisles clear, not just because it is the law, but because the safety of 1,495 other people depends on our diligence.
Accessibility of GW's facilities to the disabled has been one of the university's priorities. The renovation of Lisner Auditorium for this purpose was done according to federal guidelines, which base the number of wheelchairs to be accommodated on a percentage of the total number of other seats. Those guidelines required that we accommodate four wheelchairs for the number of seats we have. The space for wheelchairs is in the center of the theater, with three permanent seats on one side and four on the other side of the row.
For more than 90 percent of our events, those spaces are not used at all. On rare occasions, one or two wheelchairs must be accommodated and the friends of the occupants can accompany them in the same row.
The particular performance that the Freemans attended was sponsored and attended by guests of The Society for Disabled and Underprivileged Children. In fact, the Freemans got their tickets and any information they received from that group. Because of the society's purpose, we had many more young patrons with physical handicaps than we would have at other performances. Our ushers worked very hard to help any patrons who needed assistance. We transferred many children from wheelchairs; and each child in the wheelchair area had at least one parent in the same row so that he could help the child in an emergency. That was the reason we could not allow Mrs. Freeman's whole family to sit in that row.
I regret Mrs. Freeman's unhappiness, but her concerns do give me the opportunity to remind everyone that it is always best to call a facility directly to determine any special needs or limitations on accessibility. Planning ahead will help all concerned. SYLVIA KOHRN Manager, Lisner Auditorium Washington