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History of Accessibility in the Sports World

Last updated on May 3, 2020

Sports and accessibility is a topic that is often not talked about, and even today we see issues from recognizable sports franchises that have questioned the accessibility of sports stadiums to all it’s viewers. Earlier in the semester, we read in Aimi Hamraie’s “Building Access” about the friction between the Americans with disability act (ADA) and sports stadiums and infrastructure.

When talking about universal design, She mentions “social experience for disabled fans that is as similar as possible to that enjoyed by other spectators and avoids any strategy that might tend to isolate or marginalize those with disability”. This point she makes is very interesting because it is explaining that there is a stigma to isolate people with disability due to the fact that personal design is outweighing universal design shows that disability groups will face these issues until universal design is the norm. In the text, Hamraie explain a case between the DC Arena L.P. vs Paralyzed Veterans of America which there was a discrepancy over line of sight, eventually this case was closed with the conclusion being that persons in wheelchairs must have a line of sight over the head of a standing viewer in the row in front of them. This was really the starting point for accessibility rights in the sports world, and we have seen many examples of it throughout history.

Specifically, Back In 2007 Michigan Football was at the forefront of the accessibility controversy when a former Michigan alumni, Mike Harris, who unfortunately was involved in a car crash that left him paralyzed. Every year he attends a Michigan Wolverines football game as director of Paralyzed Veterans Michigan chapter, the stadium included only 45 wheel-chair accessible spots in the North and South end during the time. Not only did the stadium include only limited seating but placing them at the ends of the stadium really leaves no choice for those who deal with disability to have access to other parts of the stadium. This is where I think Hamraie stresses about universal design and designing public structures having all people accounted being the main goal.

This incident between Harris and Michigan was under litigation in 2007, after a renovation in 2010 the Michigan stadium today offers many accessibility features such as accessibility parking/shuttle service to the stadium, assisted listening devices, seating, restrooms and more. Now in every stadium across the country no matter what sport, we see facilities and stadiums become seemingly universally designed whether we even realize it or not. That is the whole point I think Hamraie is trying to get at, universal design must become the normate template when it comes to public design.

We see throughout “Building Access” many instances where accessibility has made progress in design. Although, we still see l instances where universal design is not at the forefront of architecture.

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