If you have a disability and you’re traveling to New York City, you may be considering seeing a Broadway show and wondering how to get wheelchair accessible Broadway tickets. For many people, attending a musical or play is one of the highlights of a New York City vacation. If you’ve read other disability travel guides here on Free Wheelin’ or elsewhere, you may also be aware that New York City isn’t very wheelchair accessible, and theatre hasn’t always been inclusive when it comes to disability. But thankfully, things are starting to change.
In 2019 Ali Stroker became the first wheelchair user to win a Tony Award for her portrayal of Ado Annie in “Oklahoma.” It’s important for people with disabilities to be both on stage and showing our support in the audience. And luckily, getting wheelchair accessible Broadway tickets and enjoying the musical you’ve always wanted to see isn’t an impossible dream, as long as you keep a few things in mind.
I’ve loved musical theatre since I was a kid and have attended hundreds of live performances all over the country. Since my first visit to New York City in 2010, I have seen more than 20 different Broadway shows in over 10 different theatres. I’ve learned a lot over the years, and I want to share my knowledge so other people with disabilities can have the chance to enjoy Broadway musicals and plays as much as I do. Here is my guide to seeing a Broadway show if you have a mobility disability.
1. To save money on wheelchair accessible Broadway tickets, become a TDF member.
If you have some time to prepare in advance of your trip, or you plan to see shows in New York City regularly, the NYC Theatre Development Fund offers an Accessibility Membership for people with disabilities. Membership is free with proof of disability, and members are eligible for substantial discounts on tickets, including wheelchair accessible seats. This is a great way to save money on Broadway and off-Broadway show tickets.
2. Find wheelchair accessible Broadway seating information online.
The Telecharge website is the primary place to buy tickets for Broadway shows. This is important to know as search engines don’t always find it at first. There are many ticket resellers jockeying for the top search position, but they usually won’t have wheelchair accessible seats. Telecharge will either have a way to buy wheelchair accessible Broadway tickets, or their website will direct you to the appropriate place to purchase. Some wheelchair accessible Broadway show tickets are sold via Ticketmaster.
You can usually either purchase wheelchair accessible Broadway seats online or by phone, but depending on the show and theatre, sometimes you are required to call the box office. Unfortunately, Telecharge is not the most user-friendly website. When you select tickets, you have a limited time to check out, so if you type very slowly, you may need someone to assist you. Make sure you have your credit card information and everything else you need right in front of you before searching for seats.
If Telecharge or Ticketmaster tells you there are no wheelchair accessible tickets remaining for a performance, don’t throw away your shot. Call the box office and/or ticket line and ask the agent to look. On multiple occasions I have been told by the online system that there were no tickets left, but when I called the box office they had them available.
Having a disability comes with lots of disadvantages, but one of the rare perks is that you can often buy wheelchair accessible Broadway tickets for shows that are otherwise sold out, like “Hamilton” and “Dear Evan Hansen.” In some theatres, they can also add additional wheelchair accessible seating by moving seats.
If you’re already in New York City, you can go directly to the theatre box office to buy tickets in person. I’ve gotten wheelchair accessible Broadway seats for hot ticket shows within an hour of the performance by doing this! You can also purchase tickets for a future show if you have the flexibility to attend on a different night. Tickets are always cheaper at the box office.
3. Choose the type of disability accessible Broadway seating you need.
Most Broadway musical theatres feature two different kinds of accessible seating: wheelchair seats and transfer arm seats. For the wheelchair seating, you are expected to stay in your wheelchair. For transfer arm seating, you get into the theatre seat and then your wheelchair will be moved to another location. Although I do not transfer out of my chair, I once saw a show with a friend who uses a scooter, and the ushers were very helpful with moving it out of the way after she got into her seat.
Most theatres allow you to purchase only a limited number of adjacent seats when you need wheelchair access. In my experience, you can usually purchase one or two companion seats, but if you contact the box office they may be able to seat the rest of your party nearby. This is an ongoing accessibility issue with theatres in general, and isn’t limited to Broadway.
The location of wheelchair accessible Broadway seats varies quite a bit from one theatre to another. In many theatres, you’ll be towards the back of the orchestra section; in some, you’ll be in the middle or to one side. If you’re like me and would love to sit in the front row, you’ll be disappointed. A few theatres, such as the Belasco Theatre, can remove seats along the aisle, enabling you to sit towards the front and center. I wish they were all like this. Besides the Belasco, the Richard Rodgers Theatre where “Hamilton” is playing has excellent wheelchair seats, and the Majestic Theatre where “Phantom of the Opera” has been for over 30 years has wheelchair accessible seats near the front, though they’re off to one side.
If you see a show at Circle in the Square Theatre, be aware that the only accessible seats are at the top/back, and you’ll have to be escorted around the block by an usher to get to the elevator. Arrive early! On that note…
4. Expect to find basic disability access, not full ADA compliance.
Broadway theatres are among the oldest in the United States. As such, you’ll notice some accessibility, but it may not be to the standard you expect if you live in a place with many new and remodeled buildings. You may have to enter the theatre through a different door and be escorted by an usher. You’ll almost certainly encounter steep ramps, tight corners, and oddly sloped floors. If you need assistance, ask the ushers — it’s their job and they are usually very helpful.
Most Broadway theatres have wheelchair accessible restrooms. In some cases, it’s a separate restroom that is only available for people with disabilities and you can avoid the long lines, which is great for those of us who need a bit of extra time. Still, plan to arrive early if you think you’ll need to go right before the show.
For comprehensive accessibility information about specific Broadway and Off-Broadway theatres, visit the Theatre Access NYC website.
5. Visit the stage door — it’s fun!
Outside each Broadway theatre, you’ll see a temporary metal fence marking the stage door exit waiting area. When the show gets out, wait there and you can meet actors from the show you just saw, get autographs and sometimes selfies. In my experience, fellow stage door fans are usually friendly and will make room for you. If you encounter problems, talk to the doorman or security guard. Every time I’ve waited at a particularly busy stage door, the guard has assisted me and other people with disabilities to make sure we could meet the performers.
Your favorite Broadway star may or may not leave via the official stage door. If they don’t, cut them a break — they’ve just performed for two-plus hours and may have their kids with them, family visiting, or other commitments. The actors who do choose to meet fans are friendly and patient and will make your stage door experience worthwhile.
If you’re in the theatre district when shows are letting out, you may find the sidewalk blocked by fans waiting at stage doors. This can be frustrating as if you use a mobility device, you can’t just step off the curb and go around them. I’ve had to go to the opposite end of the block and cross the street a few times because of crowds waiting for a celebrity.
6. Plan everything in advance.
Despite my occasional propensity to buy wheelchair accessible Broadway show tickets at the last minute, I highly recommend planning every aspect of your New York City trip in advance. Figure out where you are staying and how you will get from there to the Broadway show. Although hotels in Times Square are very expensive, I recommend staying in one if you’re in the city for a short visit. The Marriott Marquis is centrally located and very accessible.
If you are staying in another area of New York City (or you want to get from Times Square to someplace else) I recommend taking a taxi, the bus or driving. The subway has many accessibility issues and isn’t a good choice. Wheelchair accessible cabs have become much more common in the last several years, and it’s now possible to hail them, but your best bet is to use the Accessible Dispatch NYC app. Buses are accessible, but slow and crowded at peak times.
If you’re driving, be aware that traffic is always heavy in the Times Square area, but there are now many websites where you can reserve a parking space. I like to use Google Street view to check out garages and lots to see which will work best for my vehicle. If you have a van that’s too tall for garages, there are a few open lots available. Be aware that the garage will still charge an oversize fee of $10 or so for accessible vehicles. It doesn’t matter if your vehicle has a disability placard, tag or ramp, the fee still applies. This is unfair and probably illegal, but for the moment it’s just something you should plan for in advance.
7. Be prepared for Times Square.
Times Square is the busiest place I have ever visited. If you or a loved one has sensory issues of any kind, it will not be a pleasant environment. It’s full of people, flashing lights, loud music, honking horns, and weird smells. The first time I visited, I was completely overwhelmed, but I’ve adjusted to it over time.
Most Broadway theatres are right in the middle of all this chaos. However, in some cases you can take side streets to get to parking garages and theatres. If you avoid the busy center of Times Square, it’s not too bad.
In general, Times Square and the streets surrounding it have curb cuts and decent sidewalks. However, there are some potholes which can be hidden by puddles, so use caution, especially after it rains. Street corners can be crowded; don’t be afraid to ask people to get out of your way!
If you’re looking for a wheelchair accessible public restroom in Times Square, you may be out of luck. It’s difficult for even able-bodied people to find a bathroom. I recommend visiting the Marriott Marquis and going up to the ninth floor. This is the same floor where their theatre is located. They have large accessible family/gender inclusive restrooms; you’ll need to ask for a key, but in my experience it hasn’t been a problem.
8. Enjoy a meal after the show.
After your wheelchair accessible Broadway musical experience, I recommend having dinner in the area. I like Sunday matinee shows because I can enjoy a relaxing dinner afterwards without staying out late. But plenty of restaurants are still open after evening Broadway shows let out. Avoid the big chain restaurants — why would you want to eat the same food you can get at home? Some of my favorite Theatre District eateries include Sardi’s, a famous restaurant that features caricatures of Broadway stars past and present, Carmine’s (Italian), Junior’s (deli with amazing cheesecake), and Ellen’s Stardust Diner, where the servers are all aspiring Broadway performers and sing to you while you eat.
I hope these tips will help you as a wheelchair user or person with a mobility disability to plan your Broadway musical theatre experience. If you have questions or suggestions to add to this guide, please let me know as I’ll be updating periodically with the latest information. Have fun in the Big Apple!
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