Why We Should Not Make a Federal Case out of the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center Elevator Complaint
Since it opened last year, the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center in Sioux Falls has become quite popular for two very different reasons. The 12,000 seat venue has been a big hit with local music and sports fans, hosting a number of high-profile events, playing to big crowds. The new events center has also been a lightning rod for criticism for everything from parking, scheduling, and ticketing. You can now add accessibility to that list.
A Sioux Falls woman, Joy Tuscherer, has filed a complaint with the United States Department of Justice about an incident with an elevator at the PREMIER Center the night of the Bob Seger concert, March 17, 2015. That night, one of the elevators in the building malfunctioned, leaving several people trapped inside for about 20 minutes, while a handful of others waited to use the elevator to leave the venue. Tuscherer, who uses a cane, was waiting for the elevator on the PREMIER Center's upper level, and eventually used the stairs to get to the lobby. She filed the complaint with the DOJ because she says she wants to make sure the building is compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
I can confirm the details of Tuscherer's story from that night because I was also one of the people upstairs waiting for that elevator. My wife has been in a wheelchair for the past 25 years and we were among the group of people left wondering why it was taking so long for the elevator to come and get us. We were eventually informed by PREMIER Center personnel about the situation and redirected to another elevator which eventually got us where we were going.
There is no doubt that the malfunction was an inconvenience to a number of people, especially the ones stuck inside for 20 minutes. But make no mistake, this was an elevator issue, not an accessibility issue. The PREMIER Center has four elevators available for use and three of them were fully operational that night. There are also several signs posed throughout the venue that clearly mark the locations of the elevators. Tuscherer's complaint is a MAJOR overreaction! Not providing an elevator is an accessibility issue, having a broken one, especially when there are three others up and running within walking distance, is not.
That doesn't mean the PREMIER Center is totally without fault here. General Manager Terry Torkildson's claim that there are employees at each elevator to assist guests with disabilities is a bit misleading. There is an events center employee INSIDE each elevator, but when that elevator is stuck, there is no one on the outside to communicate with guests waiting. We were there for more than 10 minutes before anyone from the facility came to inform us of the situation. That was after I asked an employee, who had access to a two-way radio, about the status of the elevator, and was told it takes a while to arrive on busy nights. She never bothered to check to see what was really going on. Is that a communication and customer service issue? Absolutely. An accessibility issue? Hardly.
While I'm on the subject of elevators, can I ask for your help? If you are able to walk down a flight of stairs or two, please save the elevators for the people who truly need them. You will be doing a great service to people who don't have that luxury. Thank you!