Man in wheelchair's struggle to sit with friend at concert prompts call for more accessible seating

Man in wheelchair's struggle to sit with friend at concert prompts call for more accessible seating

Two music fans are calling for more accessible seating at the Jack Singer concert hall, after they were told they couldn't sit side by side in the wheelchair section, where they've had Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra season tickets for about a decade.

Lochlan Magennis, who uses a wheelchair, and Ken Potma usually sit near the back next to the sound booth. 

"It's a great experience," said Magennis. The section has good acoustics, unlike the other accessible seating, he says, which is located at the front and off to the side of the stage.

However, when Potma went to reserve tickets this week, he says he was told he would be sitting in front of his friend rather than beside him.

"I thought that would really result in a reduced experience, because a concert is about sharing and being able to turn to whoever you're with and nod when there's something particularly nice, and if you're sitting front-to-back, that experience is lost to you," said Potma.

Wheelchair seating to be expanded

Arts Commons, which houses the Jack Singer venue, says accessible seating can get tight due to the size of some wheelchairs.

"Because some of the wheelchairs are larger, where we put their companion's seat sometimes shifts depending on how many wheelchairs we have," said Tasha Komery, spokesperson for Arts Commons. 

Komery says there are plans to expand wheelchair seating this summer when the 32-year-old concert hall seats get replaced. 

The number of accessible spots could increase from nine to anywhere between 13 and 19 seats.

Fire safety officials are still being consulted on the reconfiguration. 

"We are still working with our patrons and with the CPO [Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra] to ensure that we accommodate all of our patrons. We don't want to have a lesser experience for anyone that's in a wheelchair," said Komery.

'There's going to be a few bumps'

Potma and Magennis say since they contacted CBC news, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra has offered them side-by-side seats in their usual section. They question why that wasn't an option in the first place.

"Coming out of the gate with a new seating configuration, there's going to be a few bumps," said Paul Dornian, president and CEO of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.

"Our patrons are passionate about the Calgary Philharmonic. They love what we do and many of them come for decades and decades, so they become very attached to particular things and we encourage that and support it," Dornian said.

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