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Arenas: Where Accessibility and Experience Meet

Sports are an integral part of many communities. They offer ways for friendships to be deepened, and for people to express themselves. It is also sadly an area where many groups of people have been historically and systematically discriminated against. So, it is important to understand the history of sports and disability before we examine the sport obsessed city that is Philadelphia. A city that holds many nationally known stadiums like Wells Fargo Arena and Lincoln Finical Field, but also smaller ones like Hagan Arena that manages to weave close-knit communities together every year.

When stadiums were first made there wasn’t much thought put into them. They were made out of simple material, and all they consisted of was fields or courts and seats. All the seating was the same, and the only thing that made them different was proximity to the action. However, it became clear over time that this approach left out a large population of society. The ADA was created to address discrimination that existed, and many parts of this act focused on stadiums. It stated, “The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires new stadiums to be accessible to people with disabilities so they, their families, and friends can enjoy equal access to entertainment, recreation, and leisure.” The goal of the act was to create stadiums that could be enjoyed fully and equally by all, and the act contained many specific requirements. Seating, Parking, Routes to Seats, Concessions, and most aspects were covered in the act. Capital One Arena in Washington D.C. was one of the first examples of architects and companies trying to cut corners Capital One Arena was originally designed with many flaws from line of sight to amount of accessible seats. The architects lost, but many other examples still exist of problems with stadiums. 

Stadium overview of all accessible points at a soccer stadium, a good example of what to look for at arenas and venues. Via –

Both new stadiums being built and older stadiums being renovated tried to find loopholes within the ADA. When Michigan renovated their football stadium nicknamed, “The Big House,” a famous and important site in American sports, Veterans filed a lawsuit.. The claim stated that new 226 million dollar renovations failed to address many needs they had and were required to fulfill by the ADA. The Veterans won, and it set an example of what had to be done. Locally in Philadelphia, there is a large amount of Stadiums within an intensely sport obsessed city. Many stadiums have been renovated from Wells Fargo to even Hagan Arena on our own campus. The problems are even present on our own campus. Maggie McNamara, a student that works sporting events at Hagan, stated, “There is a huge lack of ramps, and there’s a lack of seating court level. The seats they’re given is a pretty rough view.” There isn’t much information readily available on Hagan Area from St. Joe’s. This adds to the difficulty people with disabilities face when going to sporting events. So,with millions of dollars being put into renovations and so little information available it’s important to understand what Philadelphia offers, and how compliant it is with the Americans with Disabilities act. 

Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the Philadelphia Eagles, is a stadium that is truly made for every fan. Since the opening of the stadium in 2004, the Eagles game day experience has been adapted to be accessible and accommodate fans with disabilities. 

This starts with the entrances to the stadium, going through parking lots J or L, there are accessible drop off zones that feature ramps and an easy drop off process. The North Endzone Gate is also an ADA designated gate for expedited entry, Once in the stadium there are many accommodations for disabled fans, including mobile captioning devices for deaf or hard of hearing fans, which they can pick up at guest services. “The mobile captioning devices receive and display locally-transmitted event captioning information.” Fans also have the ability to download this software on their cellphones prior to entry. If a fan prefers an Assistive Listening Device, they are also offered, as Lincoln Financial field is also equipped with a, “highly advanced assistive listening system.”

Lincoln Financial Field provides complimentary tickets to any government-funded Personal Care Attendants, which allows the PCA entry and the ability to take care of and watch over their attendee during the game. There is also wheelchair and companion seating available throughout the stadium, this allows fans in wheelchairs to be able to watch the game with their friends in the same section. Wheelchair escorts can also be provided upon request, and can transport fans from the gate to their seating locations.

Braille information guides are available for fans at guest services upon request. All bathrooms at Lincoln Financial Field are handicap accessible. All public elevators at Lincoln Financial Field are available for fans with disabilities. All concession stands are accessible to fans with disabilities. Service animals are permitted to enter the stadium. Any questions or suggestions fans have with accessibility of the stadium can email or call the guest services hotline at (267) 570-4400.

Fans gather watching a sporting event in an accessible portion of the stadium. Photo from the Disabled Spectator organization.

The Wells Fargo Center replaced the Spectrum in 1996 and has since undergone various name changes from The CoreStates Center, to The First Union Center, and to The Wachovia Center before their merger with Wells Fargo. This stadium hosts the Philadelphia Flyers and the Philadelphia 76ers amongst other smaller teams and offers a better fan experience than the older Spectrum stadium, especially with their recent renovations. 

Information regarding the stadium’s accessibility information is clearly laid out on their website and with constant changes in society, they have a number that patrons can call and a direct area they can visit at the Wells Fargo Center to obtain more information regarding accessibility. I have personally experienced the accommodations directly as I visited the stadium for a Flyers Game while on crutches and have determined that not only is it easier to access than the old Spectrum, but it ranks as one of the easiest stadiums to access for those who aren’t physically able to walk.

Transportation to the venue is flexible with different methods from your own car to a subway station that lets you off right in the parking lot. There is ample parking towards the front of the lot next to the building to accommodate those with a handicap decal.

Entering the stadium is incredibly easy as the parking lot, sidewalk, and first level of the stadium are all on the same plain. There are no areas that have major slopes and there are no steps to get into any of the doors, it puts you directly onto the main concourse. 

Wells Fargo Center escalators and open floor plan for accessibility.

Depending on which entrance you chose, it’s an easy commute to section 114 which is where the main accessible seating is located, just about 20 rows up off of the ice or court. This seating is highly desirable as it gives viewers a center view of the event they are watching with absolutely no obstructions. According to the Wells Fargo Center website:

“When a patron has purchased or has otherwise acquired, a ticket to non-accessible seating and that patron requires accessible seating, the Wells Fargo Center will attempt to accommodate that individual and his or her companions if accessible seating comparable to that purchased to the ticketed event remains available.”

This in part with the ability to bring 3 others into this accessible seating areas shows that The Wells Fargo Center is dedicated to making all feel welcome for any event they are hosting. The suites and club boxes are also easily accessible by elevators for those that want an upgraded experience. 

Moving forward in the development of constructing more accessible sporting venues, there needs to be more attention drawn to the issue of accessibility for disabled users. A lot of professional stadiums take this into account when discussing their design plan mostly because they do not want to lose out on profit. Venues like Hagan Area may not be as accessible because they belong to an institution and money becomes a large factor in the process of building these arenas. Regardless of sports venues, historically making spaces more accessible usually comes with more of a cost. Could it be that some of these areas that don’t have accessibility features did not include this in their design plan because it was a financial burden or did they just not think about how many and all users can comfortably operate in a space where they can enjoy the experience just like any other fan?

  If by any means, it takes an extra hundreds or thousands of dollars to incorporate this into the design plan of a new sporting venue then that’s what needs to happen. Designing spaces with the idea of accessibility being the focus will allow for all users to be satisfied. Whether this means adding ramps for wheelchairs, incorporating elevators to the plan to take fans to the different levels of the arena or stadium. The extra mile needs to be taken to achieve an all-inclusive experience for every fan that attends these games. Project Bloom is a perfect outlet to start thinking about how we as a group can initiate change on our campus and in our community. It starts by questioning and challenging the preexisting spaces that have been around for many years and striving for change. Urging our administration to take the extra mile so that every hawk and fan that attends a game has the best experience as they possibly can. Yes, this is challenging, but the room for improvement and the opportunity for public awareness is increasing each and every day.

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