The Guidelines for Stadium Accessibility: Offering People with Disabilities a Good Experience
All football fans will agree: watching the game on TV is nothing compared to going to the stadium to cheer their favorite team on. Or listening to The Boss at home will never reach the sensation felt by those who were lucky enough to see him perform at the old Giants Stadium, now MetLife Stadium, for his Born in the U.S.A. Tour making him a rock legend. People go to the stadium to enjoy the ambiance, to shout out and sing along, to gather, to share a good time…
For people with disabilities, going to the stadium can prove to be a real challenge because of accessibility. In a venue that can receive more than 100,000 visitors, what place is given to people with disabilities? How can such huge and complex venues like stadiums be made accessible? What measures are implemented to welcome and guide disabled people? Can they adapt to all types of disabilities?
Is it a perfect touchdown for stadiums in the US? Let’s take a look at their overall score on accessibility!
Measures promoting stadium accessibility
Stadiums are such huge venues with a constant and ubiquitous crowd that it would be easy to think that making them accessible is nothing short of a utopia! And yet, different measures are already or currently being implemented to enable all visitors to be welcome and to feel comfortable whatever their profile is.
Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, venues that receive visitors have to make sure people with disabilities are offered the same access and services as any visitors. For stadiums, it means applying measures to enforce and promote accessibility for all regardless of the disability such as:
⊗ PRM parking spaces;
⊗ Lowered counters at concession and merchandise stands;
⊗ Wheelchair seating areas;
⊗ Wheelchair escorts;
⊗ Assistive listening devices for hearing impaired people;
⊗ Audio induction loops;
⊗ Audio beacons located at different strategic points of interest (entrances, exits…) for visually impaired people;
⊗ Elevators, escalators and ramps;
⊗ Visual contrasting non-slip stair nosings;
⊗ Guide paths;
⊗ Universal pictograms for people with an intellectual disability;
⊗ Dedicated spaces for service animals;
⊗ Closed captioning for special announcements and/or public addresses for the hearing impaired;
⊗ Audio description for the visually impaired;
⊗ Accessible public telephones;
⊗ Accessible restrooms.
More information on accessible seating as stated by the ADA:
⊗ At least 1% of the seating must be wheelchair seating locations;
⊗ Accessible seating must be availaible at every category of seating and at a variety of ticket prices;
⊗ A companion seat must be located next to the wheelchair seat;
⊗ Accessible seating must be located in all areas, including sky boxes and specialty areas;
⊗ Accessible seating must be on an accessible route providing access from parking and transportation areas and connecting to all the services provided (concessions, restaurants, restrooms…);
⊗ All the wheelchair seats must provide a line of sight over standing spectators;
⊗ 1% of all fixed seats must be aisle seats with no armrest or with a removable or folding armrest to accomodate people with a reduced mobility.
A lot of stadiums already provide these types of measures and solutions that are easy to implement such as the Madison Square Garden. The Garden, also known as The World’s Most Famous Arena, welcomes both sporting games and concerts. The venue shows a perfect example of what accessibility can and should be. Indeed, the Garden goes further providing interpreting services to visitors. People with hearing impairments can thus have a complete understanding of the situation of the game thanks to a sign language interpreter. People with sensory sensitivity who may react badly to strobes or flashing lights during an act can be warned in advance upon request to be aware of the potential challenges. Knowing this in advance enables them to feel safe and in control. They can still enjoy the show just like anybody else.
The Garden isn’t the only venue to think of the wellbeing of everybody regardless of their profile. Indeed, the U.S. Bank Stadium in Chicago, home to the Vikings, created a sensory room, a quiet and soothing place for those who need silence when the activities of the game become too loud and too intense. People with Down syndrome, people on the autism spectrum or with dementia can thus find a safe haven. The room provides noise-canceling headphones, ear plugs, sensory toys, low lighting… An innovative initiative that favors the inclusion of people with sensory needs! A stadium that leads the way to a better accessibility!
The U.S. Bank Stadium website provides maps of both the exterior and the interior of the stadium. Visitors can thus prepare their excursion and get all the information they need in advance to avoid any stress and can even download the maps on their smartphones. Knowing that 84% of people with disabilities use a smartphone to have a better autonomy in their everyday lives, it makes sense smartphones are becoming more and more necessary for them.
Using an indoor wayfinding app like Evelity that guides people with disabilities step by step could be extremely valuable in such a complex venue as the app can not only help the users find their bearings but can also locate entrances and exits and other landmarks within the venue.
Plus, Evelity adapts to the user’s profile and their capabilities to better meet their needs.
How can stadium accessibility ensure people with disabilities have a good experience?
As we’ve seen, the goal of having an accessible stadium is to enable all its visitors to share the same experience: easily accessing their seat, having a good visibility of the game… Plus actively participating in the festivities: singing the team anthem, shouting out their joy when their favorite team scores and thus fully enjoying the ambiance the stadium has to offer.
It’s essential for people with disabilities to feel comfortable in a busy and crowded place. Some prefer to come to the stadium with a companion who can assist them if necessary. For those who come by themselves, they may rely on staff members or any attendants at the stadiums to guide them and assist them. Stadium accessibility is much more than setting up accessible equipment.
Attendants have to be able to answer the needs of supporters whatever their disabilities are. Greeting them with a smile, being available, knowing how to anticipate their needs and their potential obstacles and having empathy are all necessary qualities. The whole stadium personnel (attendants, vendors, security guards), internal or external, have to be well trained in all aspects. Thanks to a partnership with Fraser Pediatric Therapy, two licensed behavioral specialists take care of visitors at the sensory room of the U.S. Bank Stadium. During every home game, people with sensory disabilities can request their help to relax.
The Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina and home to the Panthers Carolina has Guest Relations Booths located at each main entrance to answer any questions that people with disabilities may have about the stadium or public transportation and assist them accordingly.
Having a well trained staff enables the visitors to feel safe and comfortable thus ensuring them to fully enjoy the game. They share the same experience as any other visitors.
Getting in and out of the stadium
It’s not always easy to go to the stadium due to a large number of people who go there as well and the traffic jams that follow. Is it more practical to leave early to find a parking space? The Ohio Stadium in Colombus, Ohio provides a map that informs visitors how to reach their accessible parking from different directions and also the route the accessible shuttles take from the parking to the stadium entrances. Other stadiums enable visitors to book in advance their parking space so that they don’t have to worry about finding a space once they arrive. For those who don’t have a vehicle, using public transportation can always be an option but it’s easier with an accessible subway.
The Penn Station leads directly to the Madison Square Garden. A major hub since it connects intercity and commuter rail services around New York City. When using public transportation, people with disabilities must always be careful of their surroundings. Sometimes even buying a ticket can prove to be challenging for them. Being accompanied can relieve their stress and make them feel secure hence having an efficient and well trained staff to answer their questions is vital for them.
An inclusive and accessible stadium is indeed possible thanks to different measures that are easy to implement whether it’s inside or outside the stadium. All fans, with disabilities or not, can enjoy their experience and share a good time together. Stadium accessibility constantly needs to renew itself to answer the needs of people with disabilities.
Updated on December 27th, 2021 / Published on September 28th, 2020
The goal of having an accessible stadium is to enable all its visitors to share the same experience: easily accessing their seat, having a good visibility of the game…
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