Utah Symphony, Opera change policies after man's wheelchair removed at Abravanel Hall

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Salt Lake City man is pushing for better access for the disabled after he says he found himself trapped next to someone who was being belligerent toward him.

Carson Tueller said it's standard to have his wheelchair put in another room while he's out for a show, but it shouldn't be that way.

Last weekend he left Abravanel Hall without his wheelchair because of a fire code issue. His experience only accentuated a concern that he's had for a long time.

It was not the night Carson Tueller expected.

"Hey everyone, I just left Abravanel Hall," he shared on an Instagram post.

Tueller said he was sitting next to a man who became agitated at the fact that he tried to keep his wheelchair nearby. Ushers took the wheelchair to another room following what is the standard procedure there.

"He eventually just made some disparaging comments about the fact that I was disabled, including the phrase 'you don't get to pull a handicapped card everywhere,'" Tueller said Tuesday.

He said ushers offered the man another seat, but he refused.

Tueller decided to leave once he could get an usher to grab his wheelchair.

He said in his post, "It feels threatening. It feels vulnerable. It feels dangerous. I couldn't leave."

The Instagram video has been viewed more than 25,000 times. What's important to him is the conversation that's followed.

"I do want to acknowledge how wonderful the Utah Symphony has been."

Tueller said the Symphony is taking a closer look at the fire code and concessions that can be made for the disabled. "The individual I spoke to assured me that no mobility devices would be taken from anybody at Abravanel Hall."

He called that an important move because the fire code can't protect the disabled if they're left without a way to quickly get out.

Utah Symphony adds that there is a protocol in place to evacuate all patrons safely in the event of an emergency, which includes directing first responders to patrons with mobility issues.

"I believe this is a human issue and I just want to create a society and a system where everyone can participate," Tueller said. His hope is that the conversation can progress beyond that and that the disabled won't remain an afterthought when it comes to everyday activities.

According to the Unified Fire Authority, mobility devices by fire code are considered obstructions but that's on a very technical level. Venues do have the ability to adjust enforcement at their discretion.

Utah Symphony and Utah Opera confirmed that they are making changes to make shows more accessible, including working with Salt Lake County to have mobility devices kept with them even if they are not in wheelchair spaces. They also added the following statement:

"We are grateful that this experience, while unfortunate, brought to light the opportunity to improve the ways in which we serve those with disabilities. We have had productive conversations with Mr. Tueller already, and he has expressed gratitude for the steps we are quickly taking as an organization and with Salt Lake County to ensure our venues are a welcoming and safe space for everyone. We look forward to collaborating with him as we work to be a leader in accessibility in the performing arts."

A full list of accommodations for Maurice Abravanel Hall, Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre, and the Deer Valley Music Festival is available here.

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Mike Anderson
Mike Anderson often doubles as his own photographer, shooting and editing most of his stories. He came to KSL in April 2011 after working for several years at various broadcast news outlets.


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