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What Does ADA Compliant Mean for a Stadium?

By Holly South | Last updated on

The U.S. government is suing Major League Baseball's Chicago Cubs for allegedly not complying with Americans With Disabilities Act standards in their remodel of Wrigley Field. According to the lawsuit, the best wheelchair seating was removed and not included in any of the sky box seating arrangements. The team moved the wheelchair seating to the very last row of the stadium, a view often obstructed by drink rails or standing fans.

According to the Cubs, the renovations were meant to increase the stadium's accessibility, with 50% more wheelchair seating. The renovations also included 11 more elevators and more enhanced auditory assistance systems. As the United States' second-oldest MLB stadium, it was long overdue for an accessible revamp.

What Is the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, aims to guarantee that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as those without. It is based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that there should be no discrimination on the basis of disability (amongst other things). The ADA has a set of requirements for federally funded spaces and spaces that are open to the public, which includes stadiums.

Stadium ADA Compliancy

New stadiums must have accessible wheelchair seating. It may sound redundant, but "accessible" in this case means "easy to get to." Wheelchair seating should:

  • Be dispersed throughout the stadium
  • Be available at all levels and price points (including sky boxes)
  • Be ramp or elevator accessible from restrooms and parking
  • Have companion seats available next to each wheelchair seat
  • Have a comparable line of sight with those not in wheelchair seating
  • Account for events where people are standing most of the time, such as concerts

One percent of aisle seats must have either no armrest or a removable armrest for people with low mobility who are not in a wheelchair.

Additionally, auditory assistance and visual alarms must be available for people who are either deaf or hard of hearing. Signs have to be visible to all attendees at any eye level, and brail needs to be factored into wall signage. Accessibility accommodations should be clearly marked.

Any stadiums constructed prior to ADA, like Wrigley Field, may consider revamping their structures. However, not all publicly available spaces have the funding to do so. If that's the case, they can find other viable means of providing equal opportunities to be a spectator.

For example, many high schools offer wheelchair seating around football fields on the ground and a smaller seating section for friends and family. This provides access to view the entire game, and an accessible route to concessions and restrooms without the school having to pay for a whole new stadium.

What if There's a Lack of Accessibility?

If a business is violating ADA regulations, they are indeed primed for lawsuits against them. They can also face fines of up to $75,000 for a first offense and an additional $150,000 for any others after that. Not to mention, a lack of accessibility can be entirely damaging to a business's reputation. It is highly recommended that businesses reassess the accessibility of their publicly available spaces.

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