News & Updates
Kevin McGuire, CEO of McGuire Associates, Inc. has recently
been a guest of the following broadcast media. He has given extensive
interviews on the issues concerning emergency evacuation of people
88.3 AM WLIU (New York, NY)
97.1 FM Talk (Los Angeles, CA)
WHYY NPR/Morning Edition (Philadelphia, PA)
WABC-TV New York City Channel 7 (ABC affiliate)
WMC-TV Memphis Channel 5 (ABC affiliate)
WNBC-TV Memphis Channel 8 (NBC affiliate).
Panel opens door to disabilities discussion
Harvard’s services, options, and opportunities provide key to access
By Robert Mitchell and Maura Rizzuto, FAS Communications
The numbers can be
staggering: In 2010, it was reported by the U.S. Census Bureau that
about 56.7 million people — or 19 percent of the population — had a
disability, with more than half of them classifying the disability as
“severe.” In fact, people with disabilities are America’s largest
To address these growing numbers and concerns about disabilities,
Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Human Resources recently
organized a community discussion titled “Working with People with
Disabilities: What Happens After You Say Hello?”
“This spectrum of diversity is one that is often viewed in a
one-dimensional manner,” said Andrea Kelton-Harris, FAS senior human
resources consultant. “My goal was to expose our staff and faculty to
the many dimensions of this group of individuals and help them build
practical awareness that will be useful to them in both their
professional and personal lives.”
“Health is a temporary state,” said panelist Michele Clopper, assistant director of University Disability Services. People with disabilities are among the only minority group that anyone can become a member of at any time.
Panelist Kevin G. McGuire, chairman and CEO of McGuire Associates, is
one such example. Hit by a drunk driver at age 7, McGuire is now in a
“Nobody ever plans to become a person with disabilities,” said
panelist Jonathan G. O’Dell, assistive technology and training manager
for the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. At 10
years old, O’Dell contracted meningitis, which led to rapid hearing
loss. “I feel the loss,” he said. “I had my hearing before that
Clopper pointed out that a 2008 law expanded the definition of
disability as anything that substantially limits one’s ability to engage
in a major life activity. With that in mind, she said her office is
equipped to provide leadership and guidance not to only comply with
laws, but to make sure that members of the Harvard community receive the
kind of support that will help them succeed.
“I wanted this discussion to share information about internal
resources that exist at Harvard to help managers and staff when facing
issues of disability,” Kelton-Harris said. “The panelists were engaging,
shared useful information and advice, and provided a foundation of
learning upon which those in attendance can build more awareness of the
many ways that exist to interact with and support people with
disabilities,” she concluded.
To learn more about the services provided at Harvard, visit the Harvard University Disability Services Website.
For 21 years Kevin McGuire has made his mark by helping make major sports stadiums, arenas, ballparks and race- tracks more accessible.
Alas, he’s still one man.
“It’s 1,000 leaks in the dyke, and I have only ten fingers,” says the CEO of McGuire Associates in Massachusetts, an accessibility consultation firm with national reach.
But, he’s one man in an age of integrated communications that gives anyone the ability to turn a whisper into a shout heard around the world.
A good example of that power is people’s experiences at various businesses. Good and bad reviews get featured on Yahoo News after a post on Twitter, Facebook or Yelp and get lots of usually unexpected attention. Businesses are increasingly paying attention to the phenomenon. McGuire aims to make AbleRoad (ableroad.com) one of the sites they watch. “I want it to be a crowd-sourcing way to enforce the law and get businesses’ attention,” McGuire says. “Let (people with disabilities) start telling properties what’s wrong with their spaces. Believe me, if the voices get loud enough, they will respond.”
Hitting the Road
Similar to other business-rating sites, such as Yelp, AbleRoad gives users the ability to rate every kind of business from spas and restaurants to doctors and hospitals. It has the usual rating categories, but AbleRoad also gives users the chance to rate and comment about accessibility. Hypothetically, a review might look like this: “Food and service were great, but the bar was in an inaccessible loft overlooking the dining room. My date and I couldn’t get up there to enjoy the view, so we went elsewhere for drinks.”
McGuire says if enough people with disabilities get on and use AbleRoad, the hypothetical restaurant wouldn’t need a lawsuit to find the heart to make that loft accessible. It’d be moti- vated by watching dollars head elsewhere.
“I’m just tired of fighting,” McGuire says. “I’m just tired of it. People need to speak up.”
Getting an Early Start
McGuire was injured in a freak accident when he was quite young. “I was hit by a drunk driver in 1968 when I was 7,” he says. “He literally drove onto the yard where I was playing.” He entered a difficult world for a wheelchair-using lad.
“I was injured before (Americans with Disabilities Act), (Section) 504, and Rehabilita tion Act of ’73,” he offers. Local school officials wanted to place him into a special-education program that would have ended with a certificate of attendance, rather than a high school diploma.
McGuire’s opportunities for higher education suddenly had a titanic question mark behind them. “My parents fought that,” McGuire remarks. “They said I had a physical disability, not a mental one.” Sometimes fighting city hall works, then and now. “I was mainstreamed,” he continues. “I was luck y that of the 18 elementar y schools that were in my area, there was a principal who let me in.” After high school, McGuire was off to Boston University, where he got a chance to learn from a man whose relentlessness to uphold what he believed in became the stuff of legends and controversy. “When I went to Boston Universit y, I worked for Senator (Edward Moore “Ted”) Kennedy,” McGuire says.
After graduating, McGuire went to Georgetown University to study law. He worked for another fabled political family, Rep. Hamilton Fish Jr. of New York. Fish, a moderate Republican, was counted among the strongest pro- ponents of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. “When the ADA came out, I knew they would need consultants,” McGuire comments.
From Arenas to Hollywood
McGuire started that often thankless gig in 1992. Then the big break came along. “(TD Garden): that was my first arena and that took me national,” he offers. TD Garden, in Boston, was the Shawmut Center. It became the FleetCenter, and later the TD Banknorth Garden. Locals just call it the Boston Garden, or The Garden.
Other arenas and stadiums on McGuire’s client list include the Staples Center in Los Angeles, legendary Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., and the friendly confines of Wrigley Field in Chicago. Among McGuire’s latest projects is a $300 million expansion at the Daytona Interna- tional Speedway in Florida. But sports venues aren’t the only ones that need consultants.
So did Hollywood, and McGuire is an actor. An Oliver Stone film in the works needed lots of wheelchair users for consultation and acting. “I was used in a movie called Born on the Fourth of July,” McGuire says. Tom Cruise starred in the 1989 autobiographical movie about Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic. McGuire’s role was originally going to be a large one. However, as the screenplay was revised largely due to changes in Kovic’s life, it shrank. Additionally, McGuire worked as a consultant on the 1997 science-fiction film Gat- taca. He helped teach Jude Law how to portray wheelchair user Jerome Eugene Morrow. “The nice thing about that was I got to kiss Uma Thurman about 15 times,” McGuire boasts.
Acting transformed into another project for McGuire — producing videos for companies to train their employees how to make shopping, eating and traveling more enjoyable for people with a wide range of disabilities. He’s quite proud of his latest offering.
“If you have one insensitive comment made by a front-line person, it doesn’t mat- ter what you did before,” he says. “It’s a kick (expletive) video; it’s really, really good.” McGuire says the 21 years he’s been a professional disabilities advocate and accessibility consultant have left him largely disheartened. “I’m still grappling with architects and builders to do what they have to do for acces- sibility,” he comments. McGuire is hopeful AbleRoad will give others a chance to help the cause.
Kelly: Hearing impaired in the loop at TD Ameritrade
By Michael Kelly
June 26, 2012
Just before the College World Series, it was mentioned at a press
conference that TD Ameritrade Park is equipped with a “loop system.”
heard right. At the ticket office and in certain seating sections, the
1-year-old ballpark features what's called an induction-loop hearing
Members of the local hearing-impaired community are
cheering, even though the stadium's system isn't widely used so far. But
they say it's part of a trend at public venues in the Omaha area and
around the country.
With the graying of America as baby boomers
age, more and more of us suffer from hearing loss. The installation of
loops at the stadium sends a message.
“I hope it opens other
people's eyes,” said Diane Muelleman of Omaha, a member of the Hearing
Loss Association of America. “We need more public spaces looped for
people with hearing loss.”
The technology, advocates say, could
transform the lives of tens of millions of Americans — in museums,
churches, meeting rooms and other public spaces. It is widely adopted in
A hearing loop is a strand of copper wire
emitting electromagnetic signals to a receiver — called a telecoil, or
t-coil — in most hearing aids and cochlear implants. The loop is
typically installed on or in the floor around a room or other space,
such as a sanctuary or a section of a ballpark or arena.
person who steps “into” the loop receives only the sounds coming
directly from a speaker's microphone — such as a minister at a church or
the public-address announcer at the ballpark — and not all the
Roger Dixon, executive director of the
Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, which oversees the
ballpark, said installing the system when the stadium was built cost in
the $20,000 range.
It was recommended by Boston consultant Kevin
McGuire, who advises nationally on the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Though the law doesn't mandate loop systems, it does require that public
venues provide “effective access” for people with hearing loss.
can mean lending a headset with an FM receiver, but the loop system is
state of the art. If the loop system is well-received and works at the
ballpark, Dixon said, MECA would consider installing loops at the
CenturyLink Center Omaha, the site of concerts, banquets and athletic
events such as this week's U.S. Olympic Swim Trials.
said in a phone interview that after the Disabilities Act was enacted in
1990, most of the litigation had to do with mobility issues. A lawyer,
he uses a wheelchair because he was paralyzed when a drunk driver struck
him while playing ball in a yard at age 7.
Now, he said, instead of mobility-related disability issues, more are sensory-related.
with sensory disabilities can be quite assertive in demanding whatever
rights they perceive under ADA,” McGuire said. “You've got a pretty
assertive hard-of-hearing community in Nebraska. They love this looping
When I checked with MECA last week, I was told that only
one hearing-impaired fan had asked to sit in a looped section at the
College World Series.
That was Daniel Muelleman, 23, a Creighton
University graduate who is entering the Creighton Law School. (His
mother is Diane Muelleman, quoted above.)
Daniel said he hoped to
buy a reserved seat close to the infield, but no seats in the looped
areas there were available. So he bought a general-admission ticket and
sat in the looped section beyond the fence in left-center field.
He can easily turn his t-coil on and off. When it's on, he can hear directly what's coming through the stadium PA system.
had it on for the national anthem to hear what it sounded like,” he
said. “It worked. But when I switch to the t-coil, it turns off what the
hearing aid normally does, which is picking up regular sound.”
who serves on the Nebraska Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing,
noted that the advantage of a loop system isn't volume. “The
environmental sounds are minimized or eliminated,” she said, “and the
sound of the voice is clear and understood.”
TD Ameritrade Park
apparently is one of the first stadiums with hearing loops. Yankee
Stadium and Citi Field in New York and Target Field in Minneapolis are
among those with loop systems at ticket windows.
Lintz, a lawyer and self-described stay-at-home mom who promotes loop
systems as head of the Hearing Access Program in New York, said 30
percent of people older than 65, and one in five teenagers, have some
form of hearing loss.
Previous generations didn't live as long as
people do today, she said, and hearing loss will become more of an
issue. Meanwhile, she said, health inspectors grade restaurants, but no
one checks out Disabilities Act violations.
“The burden is shifted
to the people, and it places you in the position of having to battle
the world,” she said. “Progress is being made, but there needs to be a
lot more progress.”
I first wrote about loop systems a year ago,
when Broadway Christian Church in Council Bluffs had one installed.
Omaha ear specialist Dr. Britt Thedinger of Omaha said the systems are
Last month, St. Pius X Catholic Church completed
installation of such a system, also known as an audio loop. Mary Dyer
and Sheryl Butler of Glenwood, Iowa, who facilitated the installation at
both churches, are talking with other houses of worship about hearing
“What has changed,” Dyer said, “is that the knowledge of
hearing loops is going viral. Once a person with hearing loss gets to
experience a loop, there is no going back.”
Disabled Advocate and Alum to Share Lifetime of Experience
Kevin McGuire promises “brutally honest” address to SAR grads
05.18.2012 By Amy Laskowski.
As one of the nation’s leading advocates for improving accessibility for the disabled, Kevin McGuire has traveled all over the country, consulting with such prominent clients as the New England Patriots, Live Nation concert venues, and the White House Visitor Center.
But one of his favorite memories is a note he received from a little boy who was deaf. The child had just seen a movie in a theater that McGuire (CAS’83) had worked to make accessible. The theater had installed a captioning device system that allowed the boy to understand what was happening on the screen. His note thanked McGuire for the movie, for the popcorn, and above all, for “treating him like a human being.”
“I remember thinking, oh my gosh. If this kid thinks what we’re doing—which is what we should be doing—makes him human, then we still have a long way to go,” McGuire says.
On Sunday, McGuire will draw on recollections from his impressive career and his own experience as a disabled person when he delivers the Sargent College convocation address.
“My speech will be a really brutally honest sort of address about who I am, how my BU experiences helped to shape me, and what I’ve done in my career,” says McGuire, who has been paralyzed from the waist down since an accident at age seven. “Because of my accident, I have had intense relationships with occupational therapists and physical therapists to get better and to succeed, and they have certainly played important roles in my successes.”
As CEO of McGuire Associates, a Waltham, Mass., consulting firm specializing in compliance with federal and state disability laws, McGuire has made it his life’s work to see that public venues around the country are accessible to all.
“As a national leader in business and an advocate for accessibility for all, Kevin embodies the determination, strength of character, and compassion that will serve our students well in their future professions,” says Gloria Waters, dean of Sargent College. “We believe his personal stories and experiences with health and rehabilitation professionals—and hearing about the impact these professionals have had on his recovery and his life—will instill in our graduates a very real sense of the power they have to make a difference in someone’s life.”
McGuire Associates advises on a range of issues, including policy, procedures, and training of employees, and acts as a liaison with government agencies. Most important, the firm works with stadiums and public venues to ensure that they not only meet, but exceed the requirements set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on physical or cognitive disability. The act requires, in part, that public venues provide van-accessible parking, assisted listening devices, and American Sign Language interpreters.
At the time the seven-year-old McGuire was hit by a car driven by a drunk driver, there were no laws to protect the disabled. When it was recommended that he attend a special needs school near his hometown of Newburgh, N.Y., McGuire’s parents declined. He credits his “very persistent” parents with not only fighting to keep him at his school, but for pushing him to become self-reliant by teaching him to drive, do laundry, and other life skills.
During his freshman year at BU, McGuire was a staff assistant for U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy (Hon.’70), who years before had sent the young McGuire a note when he heard about his paralysis. “Kennedy had broken his back in a plane crash and eventually recovered,” McGuire says of the late Massachusetts senator. “He wrote, ‘If I can do it, you can do it.’ That inspired me to go into politics.”
And he did. At BU, he was president of Shelton Hall as a sophomore and junior and worked as a President’s Host as a junior and senior. He also was president of the Student Union senior year.
He credits John Silber (Hon.’95), BU’s president at the time, for doing “accessibility things at BU that no one else did. He was way ahead of the ball game. He would challenge me, as student body president, and get in my face every day.”
Despite Silber’s efforts, says McGuire, BU wasn’t perfect. He recalls having to use the freight elevator at Warren Towers to get to the dining hall, because the passenger elevator didn’t go to all the floors. Morse Auditorium was not accessible to the disabled until his senior year, so if he had to give a speech there, his friends would have to lift him and his wheelchair up to the stage.
After the Americans with Disabilities Act became law, McGuire knew there would be a need for consultants, and he founded McGuire Associates in 1991. “I was lucky that my dad owned a small office building, so I had free rent,” he says. “I just busted my backside in the beginning, and one job led to two, and it mushroomed, and I’ve done really well.”
Currently, he is working on the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., the Brooklyn Nets’ new stadium, and the $350 million Rose Bowl Stadium renovation and improvement project in Pasadena, Calif. At Gillette Stadium, he recently finished a training video for New England Patriots employees, emphasizing customer service skills, like how to help a blind customer navigate a retail store or a concession stand. Other stadiums are interested in using the video as well, he says.
McGuire’s newest venture is AbleRoad, a website he likens to Yelp or Angie’s List, which will officially launch in a few weeks. The new site will allow disabled people and their families and caregivers to review any public space in the country and rate it for factors like handicapped accessibility and whether the staff is trained to assist people with disabilities.
But for now, his attention is focused on the address he will give on Sunday to this year’s graduating health and rehabilitation majors.
“I’ve had a great life, but I have also failed, and graduates shouldn’t be afraid to fail,” McGuire says. “But I never regret trying. I want to really encourage the grads to pursue their dreams.”
Making America Accessible
From his wheelchair, Kevin McGuire (CAS’83) leads the charge
Kevin McGuire remembers when wheelchair users could enter a building
only through the service entrance, when those who were blind didn’t go
to the movies and those who were deaf could never enjoy the opera.
McGuire (CAS’83), CEO of McGuire Associates,
a consulting firm specializing in compliance with federal and state
disability laws, has made it his life’s work to see that venues around
the country are accessible to all. That includes him; McGuire is
paralyzed from the waist down.
“I know accessibility laws probably better than anyone else in this
country,” says McGuire, sitting in his custom-made titanium wheelchair.
“It’s meaningful for me. When I have people come up to me because they
had a great experience at a Broadway show or a baseball game, I feel
good knowing that I had a big part in making their experience so great.”
These days, when McGuire rolls through the halls of Gillette Stadium,
in Foxborough, Mass., he greets workers by name, chatting them up
easily as he glides by. He has worked with almost every major arena,
stadium, ballpark, and concert venue in the country, and Gillette is one
of his favorites. It was important to the Kraft Group, he says, that the stadium, built in 2002 and home to the New England Patriots, exceed all requirements set by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on
physical or cognitive disability. The act requires, in part, that public
venues provide van-accessible parking, assisted listening devices, and
American Sign Language interpreters.
“We really relied on Kevin’s
expertise to make sure that this building could be experienced to the
fullest extent possible by anyone who came in here,” says Jonathan
Kraft, president of the Kraft Group and the New England Patriots. “Kevin
is very knowledgeable about the disabled community, and at the same
time he understands businesses. He has a very elegant way of bringing
those two worlds together.”
McGuire, 50, was paralyzed at age 7, when he was hit by a drunk
driver. At that time, he says, there were no laws to protect the
disabled. When it was recommended that he attend a special needs school
near his hometown of Newburgh, N.Y., McGuire declined. He is grateful
for his “very persistent” parents, who fought for him to stay at his
school and who pushed him to become self-reliant, teaching him to drive,
do laundry, and other life skills.
During his freshman year at BU, McGuire was a staff assistant for
U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy (Hon.’70), who years before had sent the
young McGuire a note when he heard about his paralysis. “Kennedy had
broken his back in a plane crash and eventually recovered,” McGuire says
of the late Massachusetts senator. “He wrote, ‘If I can do it, you can
do it.’ That inspired me to go into politics.”
And he did. At BU, McGuire was president of Shelton Hall sophomore
and junior years, a President’s Host junior and senior years, and
president of the Student Union senior year.
He recalls that John Silber (Hon.’95), BU’s president at the time,
“did accessibility things at BU that no one else did. He was way ahead
of the ballgame. He would challenge me, as student body president, and
get in my face every day.”
Despite Silber’s efforts, says McGuire, BU wasn’t perfect. He had to
use the freight elevator at Warren Towers to get to the dining hall,
because the passenger elevator didn’t go up to all of the floors. Morse
Auditorium was not accessible to the disabled until his senior year, so
if he had to give a speech there, his friends would have to lift him and
his wheelchair up to the stage.
After earning a bachelor’s in history and political science at the
College of Arts & Sciences, McGuire went on to Georgetown Law. He
served on BU’s Board of Trustees from 1982 to 1983 and was invited to
speak at Senior Breakfast in 1990. “At BU,” he told his audience, “I was
introduced to life. I knew I would make it, that I would be OK.”
In the late 1980s, working as an assistant district attorney in New
York’s Bronx County District Attorney’s office, McGuire saw a newspaper
ad inviting people in wheelchairs to try out for the Oliver Stone film Born on the Fourth of July, a true story of a paralyzed Vietnam veteran who becomes an antiwar activist.
McGuire landed the role of a disabled veteran who protests along with
the lead character, played by Tom Cruise. He also taught Cruise how to
use a wheelchair. Stone even incorporated one of McGuire’s BU memories
into the film: one night he was hanging out with friends at the Dugout.
As McGuire held a beer with one hand and was furiously popping wheelies
with the other, a crowd of people started to dance around him. In the
end, he wiped out, slightly shaken but ego intact.
Americans with Disabilities Act became law, McGuire knew there would be a
need for consultants, and he founded McGuire Associates in 1991. “I was
lucky that my dad owned a small office building, so I had free rent,”
he says. “I just busted my backside in the beginning, and one job led to
two, and it mushroomed, and I’ve done really well.”
Since then, his company has worked for 200 clients,
including most of the country’s national sports teams, Live Nation
concert venues, the White House Visitor Center, the Kodak Theatre, in
Los Angeles, and Boston’s Symphony Hall. He advises on a range of
issues, including policy, procedures, and training of employees, and he
works as a liaison with government agencies. McGuire recently launched a
new company, AbleRoad,
which makes how-to videos on a variety of topics, such as making a
kitchen accessible and assisting the disabled with personal care and
At Gillette, McGuire oversaw full compliance with ADA regulations,
which included fully accessible restrooms and concession stands,
accessible telephones, and captioning and game description. He also
helped train the stadium’s 3,000 employees to assist disabled guests. He
is especially proud, he says, of an assisted-listening device in the Hall at Patriot Place,
an interactive museum of Patriots history. The device helps people who
are either deaf or blind by describing a display or guiding to the next
display. McGuire says that while making public spaces accessible is the law,
it’s also smart business. The number of Americans over the age of 65
will jump from 40 million in 2010 to 70 million by 2030.
“The older this country gets, the more disabled it becomes,” says
McGuire. “There are people with these disposable incomes who aren’t
being reached out to. They’re used to going to restaurants, going to the
movies, and they don’t want to stop going just because their vision is
One thing that is not fading is McGuire’s devotion to his cause. That
remains fueled by memories, like one of a note received from a child
who had seen a movie in a theater that McGuire had worked on. The child
thanked McGuire for the movie, for the popcorn, and above all, for
“treating him like a human being.”
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh. If this kid thinks what we’re
doing—which is what we should be doing—makes him human, then we still
have a long way to go.”
The New York Times
May 18, 2009
Lose My Luggage if You Must, but Not My Wheels
By Kevin G McGuire, as told to Joan Raymond
THERE are a lot of things that can go wrong when you fly. I take lost luggage, delays and cancellations in stride. But I had a little meltdown when someone took my wheelchair.
Kevin G. McGuire is chairman and chief executive of McGuire Associates, based in Waltham, Mass., which consults on disability access issues.
I was hit by a drunken driver in 1968. I was 7 years old. I don’t remember much about it, but I do remember telling my dad that we needed to get home and watch “Get Smart.” I was originally paralyzed from the neck down, but regained the use of my upper body by 1970.
I graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in 1987. I never wanted to be a lawyer. But now I work with clients to make sure building projects and venues for events like rock concerts comply with disability access requirements. I love what I do, but it requires a lot of travel.
Generally, I preboard, so I’m already in my seat by the time other passengers get on. Occasionally, I can’t preboard, and have to get on the plane with everyone else.
People are always in a hurry to get to their seats, and I wonder how they feel when they see a guy using a wheelchair. After all, I might cause a delay.
But I have the chair-to-seat thing down to a science.
I have a lot of upper body strength, and I can do it in about eight seconds. People say they are amazed at how quick I am, and it’s a great icebreaker.
I like talking to people, and I’ve made a lot of good friends on flights. Actually, about 50 percent of the women I’ve dated are women I’ve met in airports or on airplanes.
Though I’m very self-sufficient, I’m not above asking for help. Sometimes that can be embarrassing. But people come through.
I try not to drink anything before a flight because getting to the restroom once I’m boarded can be a problem. But I was out with some clients one night for drinks and, although I wanted to limit myself to one margarita since I had a flight later that evening, we were having a lot of fun and I had more than one drink.
I wasn’t worried since I thought my flight was only 40 minutes long and I used the airport facilities before boarding. But I totally miscalculated flight time. It was a two-hour flight, and nature was calling. It was calling so much that I broke out into a sweat midflight.
I told the guy sitting next to me about my dilemma. I have to say that he was the coolest and nicest guy on the planet. He handed me a large, empty water bottle. And after we piled some jackets on my lap, I gave in to the call of nature. We laughed the rest of the flight.
I didn’t laugh when someone mistook my $3,500 custom titanium chair for the airport generic model and took it from the first-class closet.
I didn’t realize it was gone until it was too late. The airline gave me a behemoth of a chair to use until it could find mine. My chair is like a sports car. The chair the airline gave me was like a tank. I was miserable.
About four hours later, the police located my wheelchair. It was abandoned on a shuttle bus for a flight to Alaska.
I know this wasn’t intentional, and I hope the person who took it enjoyed the ride.
I was ecstatic when I got it back, and I’m sure I had a couple of margaritas that evening. I didn’t even worry about the potential consequences. After all, I wasn’t flying anywhere that night.
Q. & A. With Kevin McGuire
Q. How often do you fly?
A. I used to fly about once a week. Now, I’ve gotten it down to twice a month.
Q. What’s your least favorite airport?
A. Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. Its accessible bathrooms aren’t accessible, and the carpets are so thick it’s almost impossible to wheel from one gate to another.
Q. Of all the places you’ve been, what’s the best?
A. Seattle. The people are great, and I’ve had a lot of fun projects there.
Q. What’s your secret airport vice?
A. I don’t know if it’s a vice but I love checking out people. It’s kind of like a game of I Spy. I never spotted a spy, though I did see some Secret Service types once. That wasn’t too tough.
Sports Destination Management Magazine
ADA Compliance – Meeting the Needs of Many
By Amy Henderson
HOTEL accommodations, venue selection, catering and transportation – not a bad start to an event checklist. But how many times have we forgotten some of the most vital information? Unless your event is surrounded by athletes with disabilities, complying with federal ADA laws probably isn’t at the top of your checklist – which can be a grave mistake.
You may remember when Casey Martin challenged the Professional Golf Association to play professionally on the tour. However due to a degenerative circulatory disorder that affected his ability to walk a full golf course, Martin lobbied the PGA to allow him to use a golf cart during each tournament. After some review and legal interjection, it was argued that due to circulatory complications with his legs, Martin would suffer the same amount of fatigue as an average player who walked the course. Martin was allowed to utilize a golf cart in the PGA tour.
How Far Have we Come?
It has been 19 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act was introduced. According to the official site of the ADA, the ‘Americans with Disabilities Act gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, State and local government services, and telecommunications.’
But really, how far have we come when taking persons with disabilities into consideration?
“Ultimately,” said Kevin McGuire, “I think it is night and day.” McGuire is the chairman and CEO of McGuire & Associates, a consulting firm with offices in Massachusetts and New York specializing in assisting corporations, institutions and sports facilities in complying with the standards of the ADA. “What’s frustrating for me is the Department of Justice is inconsistent in making sure they enforce the ADA laws,” he added.
McGuire should know – he has been in a wheelchair since 1968. At the age of 7 he was struck by a drunk driver and has been an advocate of the ruling since it was introduced.
When talking about ADA compliance, McGuire likens it to an octopus – it’s got plenty of legs. “When people think about ADA, they think about the physical abilities,” he explained. “The sensory disabilities are as (just as) important. There are things that exist today with disabilities that they didn’t think about when the laws were initially introduced.”
Touch of Gray
A lot has changed over the last 19 years, but that’s not to say that there isn’t a lot more to accomplish. With our world ever changing, we have to change with it.
According to worldhealth.net, the average American’s life expectancy is just under the age of 78 in 2009. The average life expectancy was age 70 in 1970. With people living longer, the expectancy that individuals will suffer from increased sensory failures also increases.
According to the American Foundation for the Blind in 2008, 6.2 million seniors, ages 65 or older, have vision loss. Approximately one out of every three adults between the ages of 65 and 75 has a hearing loss according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
“I don’t think people ‘get’ the graying of America,” said McGuire. “Our parents are getting older. Over 90 percent of deaf Americans cannot sign. It’s the same with the blind, they can’t read Braille. They are losing their hearing or their sight because they are getting older.”
That poses a problem not only for sports event planners but for the venues as well. Not only do we need to consider the athlete that may have special needs, but we need to take into account the parent, grandparents, neighbors and friends.
“Anything that is audibly announced in a bowl should be captioned for deaf fans,” added McGuire. “It has had major ramifications for every sports venue. Each sport is different and it’s quite problematic.”
Not only are more Americans considered disabled due to living longer, but the war in Iraq has created more disabled Americans as well. There are 1.2 million members of the Disabled American Veterans organization and more than 21,000 servicemen and servicewomen have been injured in Iraq and Afghanistan according to the website disabledusveterans.com.
“There is so much more medical technology available today,” said McGuire. “That allows for higher survival rates, but it also increases the number of disabled.”
That’s a lot to think about, but wait there’s more.
Mr. Peanut – The Enemy?
Considerations such as dietary accommodations are a hot topic right now, especially around sports. With an influx of allergies becoming more common among children, event planners need to ensure they don’t run into complications.
Up to 2 million Americans are estimated to have food allergies – peanut allergies are among the most common in the United States according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. More than 15,000 emergency room visits can be attributed to peanut allergies and approximately 100 people will die annually in the United States from an adverse reaction to peanuts according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.
“There is a big demand for a peanut-free zone,” commented McGuire. “You have to worry about allergies with younger children.”
Peanuts, popcorn and cracker jacks are as common among America’s favorite pastime as the game itself, but now it seems as though that might be compromised. Not if several teams in Major League Baseball have anything to do with it. The Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays and Minnesota Twins have all designated peanut-free zones for select games this season.
The 2009 season marks the second that the Red Sox will be participating in a peanut-free program. “We have taken certain steps to ensure that fans are not left out,” said Marty Ray, Public Affairs manager with the Red Sox. “We put a lot of emphasis on the communication that we receive from our fans. In this case, we were very moved by some of the things that were affecting fans here.”
Stephanie Maneikis, coordinator of Fan Services and Entertainment, is a key player in the success of the peanut-friendly plan. “There are two components to our peanut-free initiative,” explains Maneikis. “We offer peanut-friendly designated days, where certain parts of the Coca Cola section are reserved. We are working with (the staff at) the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America to help people with allergies and families with kids that want to come out to the park and enjoy the game.”
Creating a peanut-free zone isn’t as simple as declining to sell peanuts on game day. “We ensure that the area is clean and free of any excess peanut shells,” said Maneikis. “We have extra staff to ensure that no one walks through with peanuts, our concession areas do not sell them on those days (in that section) and we provide extra medical staff in case there is an incident.”
The Red Sox also provide a private glass enclosed booth located on the press level for at least one game during every homestand. “It’s for families with severe peanut allergies that are unable to even sit in the Coca Cola section. We build as much of a protective environment as possible,” said Maneikis.
The Mariners, Cardinals, Blue Jays and Twins are all running similar programs.
Back to the Basics
All of this is more than relevant, but that’s not to say that event planners should ignore the basic guidelines during the planning process. The essentials still apply: Ensure that entrances are wheelchair accessible, that there is access to ADA seating, restrooms are in compliance, and sightlines for wheelchair-bound fans are over spectators when the crowd is standing to catch the action.
“It’s the little things that can break you,” said McGuire. “It’s those small things that get people frustrated.”
The same rings true for the athletes, coaches and referees. Locker rooms and staff offices should be wheelchair accessible, as well as showers and restrooms.
Some basic advice from McGuire when choosing your destination or venue:
“Number one: Never believe any organization that puts a wheelchair symbol out – do your research in person.
-- Number two: Contact a city or town commissioner for disabilities within the mayor’s office or an independent living center. Ask for information about their city, venues and hotel accommodations. They deal with the consumers every day.
-- Number three: Look closely at contracts and ensure there is ADA language. Research who is held liable for any ADA violations, the tenant (event planner) or the landlord (venue).”
Resources and Technology
It’s true, we have come a long way in 19 years, but there is still a long way to go. With the changes not only in the way we live and how long we live, but also the technology that is being developed each year to accommodate individuals with disabilities.
The New England Patriots are in the forefront. The Hall at Patriot Place by Raytheon is an example of the cutting edge technology that is being developed for sports fans with disabilities.
The Hall opened in September 2008 and not only features exhibits constructed for wheelchair access, it also provides two wheelchair lifts and many touch screen interactive kiosks. But maybe the most impressive feature is the state-of-the-art hand-held Durateq captioning and listening device for guests with hearing or visual impairments. This technology provides environment descriptions and closed captioning.
Daktronics has been a leader within the sports industry and known as one of the world’s leading designers and manufacturers of LED video for sports venues. They are working with 26 National Football League venues, 26 Major League Baseball arenas, 19 National Basketball Association arenas and 20 National Hockey League facilities as well as more than 100 minor league ballparks and over 1,000 college athletic facilities.
As this technology continues to develop, so do the online resources. There are several websites that will help answer any question about meeting the needs of persons with disabilities attending your event. Here’s a few:
ada.gov – American with Disabilities
aafa.org – Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America
afb.org – American Foundation for the Blind
nidcd.nih.gov – National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders
aaaai.org – American Academy of Asthma, Allergy & Immunology
foodallergy.org – Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.
As a sports event planner, your checklist may seem endless, but the bright side is that you’re ensuring that you’re meeting the needs of the athletes, staff, family and friends with disabilities. Your event is sure to be a success.
The Boston Globe
January 26, 2009
Pats' hall of fame levels playing field
State-of-the-art video, audio feeds let disabled tackle museum at their own pace
By Robert Preer, Globe Correspondent
F OXBOROUGH - New England Patriots fans with visual or hearing impairments soon can get closer to their team, thanks to a hand-held device that resembles a BlackBerry set in a thick rubber case.
The Hall at Patriot Place, the Kraft Group's five-month-old Patriots football hall of fame next to Gillette Stadium, this week expects to add a listening and closed-captioning system that will allow people with disabilities to experience the museum in much the same fashion as visitors who are not disabled.
The hand-held devices are pocket computers that pick up infrared or FM radio signals beamed from transmitters in the ceiling. The system tracks visitors as they move about, triggering audio descriptions for the blind and closed captioning or enhanced audio for those with hearing problems.
The technology allows visitors to move about the museum at their own pace. Audio and video broadcast at the museum are synchronized precisely with the information on the devices.
"We want people who are disabled and not disabled to have a common experience when they come here," said Paul Fruia, project manager for Houston-based Softeq Development, the company that installed the system for team owner Robert Kraft's organization.
The museum features wrap-around video screens that show highlights of the Patriots' three Super Bowl victories and other key games. There are also game balls, uniforms, memorabilia, and interactive kiosks.
One of the more popular exhibits is a re-created huddle that includes life-size statues of players and quarterback Tom Brady calling a play. Visitors can stand in the huddle and hear Brady bark instructions. For a visitor who is deaf, the hand-held device runs closed captioning at the same time Brady is speaking. Visitors who have partial hearing can wear headphones that receive enhanced audio from an FM transmitter. For those who are visually impaired, the device describes the scene in the huddle.
The Hall at Patriot Place is one of the first US museums to use this technology. Disney World, in Orlando, Fla., and the World of Coke in Atlanta recently installed similar systems.
"There are not many museums anywhere that allow people with sensory disabilities to have this kind of access," said Kevin McGuire, a consultant who has advised Kraft Group on Gillette Stadium and the Patriot Place shopping and entertainment complex.
Activists and advocates for the disabled say they welcome the system.
"This is a state-of-the-art system that makes the best possible use of technology," said commissioner Heidi L. Reed of the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. "It is an important step forward."
Lise Hamlin, director of public policy and state development for the Hearing Loss Association of America, said the key aspect of the system is that it allows disabled visitors to go through the museum at their own speed.
Engineers were doing final installation and testing of the system last week. It is expected to be fully operational this week.
While the system at the Patriots' hall is new, the technologies it uses have been around for some time. Infrared signals have been in widespread use since television remote controls were invented decades ago. Closed captioning was developed in the 1970s. And the hand-held computer is similar to the mobile computing and communication devices that have flooded the consumer market in recent years. The rugged casing allows the device to survive a drop to the floor and makes it water-resistant.
Fruia, the Softeq project manager, said what makes the device special is its software, which allows the machine to perform multiple functions in response to users' differing needs.
Larry Goldberg, director of media access for WGBH public broadcasting in Boston, said, "It is a matter of taking a device that has common mainstream uses and reengineering it for another population."
For those with disabilities, however, technological advancement has been a mixed blessing.
Some innovations, such as voice recognition and closed captioning, have dramatically helped them to overcome their disabilities. But high-technology products aimed at mass markets often make no provisions for the disabled, effectively pushing them further from the mainstream.
"Advanced technology can leave people with disabilities behind," said Rosaline Crawford, director of the National Association for the Deaf Law and Advocacy Center.While almost all television shows now have closed captioning, only a small proportion of US movie theaters are equipped with closed captioning or assistive listening technology.
Many museums have descriptive audio for the blind or visually impaired, but rarely are there closed-captioning devices for the deaf and hard of hearing.
WGBH's media access group produced the closed captioning and audio descriptions for the devices used at the Hall at Patriot Place. The public broadcasting station has been a pioneer in such technologies since it invented closed captioning for a Julia Child cooking show in 1972.
Softeq officials say devices designed for people with disabilities could eventually have wider uses, such as foreign language translation and special programming for children.
Ryan Dour, 29, who is blind and lives in Chicago, used devices like the ones at the Hall at Patriot Place during a recent visit to Disney World. He said the system transformed his park experience and enriched his life. He is planning another visit to Disney World this winter.
"It's about having the opportunity to be included in the experience," Dour said. "Now when the rest of the audience is laughing, I'm laughing, too."
The Foxboro Reporter
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Pats PAVE path for all students at Hall of Fame
David Griffin paced The Hall at Patriot Place with his eyes gazing upward. Griffin, who is a teacher and director of the PAVE (Partnership of Academic and Vocational Excellence) Program at Foxborough High School, toured the new Patriots and New England football museum with a group of his students recently. On this occasion, Griffin, himself, felt like a kid.
Though Griffin ultimately conceded that this particular field trip was all about the kids, he added “I get a kick out of these trips, too.”
“On my first day, I had to teach a student who was deaf and blind to swim,” Griffin paused, “I was scared at first, but it also opened my eyes.”
During his life’s work in education, Griffin has come to find that his students, who have a wide scope of intellectual disabilities, excel while engaged, particularly through interactive learning,
The Hall provided the perfect playground.
“You can see it on their faces when they’re really grasping something,” Griffin said. “They’re all very in tune with history. They remember all the records and who won the games, who lost. This was just the perfect setting.
“When the other group came back, they couldn’t stop talking about it. Before they came, it was like Christmastime; they couldn’t sleep the night before.”
Galanti said the student’s ability to interact with The Hall’s exhibits was the highlight.
“They really enjoyed the interactive touch-screen exhibits and the high school football display,” added Galanti, who’d taken a separate group of students before Griffin’s trip. “It was interesting to watch them go through the exhibits and what each of them picked up on.”
The Hall’s array of interactive exhibits can be enjoyed by all, thanks to a concerted effort to make The Hall accessible to all of its visitors. While the facility boasts cutting-edge technology throughout its gallery, perhaps the most impressive technology helps bring the experience to life for disabled visitors.
“We really try to push a little bit with each project,” said Kevin McGuire, ADA Accessibility consultant for The Kraft Group. “We come into every project thinking that we can always do a little bit more, and that’s true. But I think the Kraft family can be really proud of what they’ve created here.”
Among the items that McGuire and Kraft Group Design and Construction Manager Kevin Luczkow looked to address while planning for The Hall was helping to enhance the experience for visual and hearing impaired visitors.
The ensuing project teamed technology systems integrator Softeq Development Ltd. and WGBH’s Media Access Group. Using Softeq’s Durateq mobile platform, which looks like a more rugged version of a typical PDA, and its ALICE (Assistive Listening and Captioning Engine) technology, audio description, assistive listening and closed captioning for The Hall’s exhibits are contained in hand-held form.
The Durateq technology was first employed at Disney World’s theme parks, but The Hall is the first New England site and the first museum setting where it has been integrated
The Hall was equipped with 42 infrared and FM radio band transmitters to create a seamless environment for the visitor throughout the facility. The transmitters trigger signals to the device to provide added volume to particular sections, assist in closed captioning and provide audio environmental description to exhibits that are interactive in nature.
Ultimately, the high technology blends together to create an experience that can truly be enjoyed by all: a main focus of The Hall project.
“I don’t think it’ll hit me until I’m in there and, for the first time, I get to see that child getting to hear about that particular because of the device, when they otherwise wouldn’t be able to,” Luczkow said. “That will bring a smile to my face. That’s when I’ll know that all the work paid off.”
Griffin can attest.
“Obviously, I want everybody to treat them they that they would want to be treated,” he said. “That’s all I can hope for them. We try to give them experiences that any other kid would have. Hopefully, with the program, we can try to give them a sense of autonomy and independence. They’re amazing because they teach me a lot of things about life every day.
“Coming here today, it’s just a nice experience for all of us.”
Sports Business Journal
July 16, 2007
Seats for Sale
By Bill King
The eBay listing made the two seats in Main Reserve 2, Row 1, behind home plate at Yankee Stadium sound as if they were designed for pleasure, rather than purpose.
“This row is an ADA accessible row. It is an extra roomy, wider row with lots more leg room. … Perfect for everyone, disabled or not. Great for kids.”
The pair sold for $197, plus $5.97 for shipping, which, considering the usual advanced price of $66 each, would have marked a tidy profit for the seller, an eBayer registered as “rocknrollnsports.”
The fact that they were ADA accessible — spaces designed for wheelchair users — made them even more profitable, since the Yankees sell those for $19 each as part of a settlement with disabled fans who sued them nine years ago.
Quite a score for “rocknrollnsports.” And quite despicable in the eyes of those who have worked to make sporting events more accessible since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.
The ADA requires stadiums and arenas to provide spaces for when they’re wheelchairs. New facilities must be built with 1 percent of their seating dedicated to those in wheelchairs, and a matching number of seats reserved for their companions.
But the same civil rights protection that guarantees fans in wheelchairs access also prevents facility operators from asking them to prove they need access. You can’t ask whether a customer is disabled. Not when they’re purchasing the tickets. Not when they’re entering the stadium or arena. Not when they’re watching the game.
That makes buying, flipping and using wheelchair seats as easy as it is profitable.
“It’s killing stadiums,” said Amy Robertson, a Denver attorney who recently negotiated a $13 million ADA settlement with Kmart. “And it’s killing people with disabilities who can’t get tickets.”
Ask attorneys who represent the disabled. Ask activists who champion their rights. Ask ticketing executives with teams and facilities. Ask the consultants who counsel them on what is best and what is lawful. Almost unanimously, they will tell you that the aspect of the ADA that occupies most of their attention today is ticket fraud — the unabashed purchase of wheelchair seats by those who don’t need them, most often for profit, but sometimes because they afford lots of room and a dandy view.
All of them bemoan the practice.
And concede they can do little to stop it.
“Able-bodied people know that ADA seats exist, and they know you have to sell them to them,” said Larry Perkins, assistant general manager of the RBC Center, home to the Carolina Hurricanes and N.C. State. “It’s hard to really keep those tickets out of the hands of those folks.”
Like many venue operators, Perkins speaks of watching able-bodied fans line up for tickets under large signs that read: Accessible Seating. Some tell stories of watching scalpers buy the seats, stroll out into the parking lot, and sell them.
“The law has the best intentions, but it does get abused,” said Erik Judson, who oversaw the development of ADA-friendly Petco Park for the Padres and now is a principal with Padres owner John Moores’ recently launched development firm, JMI Sports. “We do everything we can to mitigate that. Unfortunately, if you have an opportunity, people are going to try to seize upon that opportunity, for better or for worse.”
Most teams only sell wheelchair tickets in person and over the phone, a practice that also likely violates the ADA, since others can buy tickets on the Web. Teams hope that asking buyers a series of questions will chase off scammers. Their Web sites include harshly worded warnings promising that any person using a wheelchair spot who is not disabled will be tossed letters from the event, or at the very least relocated. They use phrases like “under penalty of perjury” and words such as “fraud.”
But what can they do to make good on those threats?
“Unfortunately, nothing,” said Kevin McGuire, a Boston-based attorney who consults on ADA issues for teams, facilities and promoters. McGuire, who writes the ADA ticket policies for his clients, likened it to the scare language that warns fans that they accept the risk of injury from a foul ball when they enter a ballpark. “But it is a shot across the bow,” he said.
Robertson said that walking buyers through a series of questions — such as the common “what accommodation do you require?” — should deter some of them, particularly since they must answer them directly, rather than with a mouse or keypad.
“Maybe people blush a little bit,” said Robertson, who settled ADA cases against the Pepsi Center and Coors Field. “But the determined fraudster is not going to care.” Even teams that sell out every game rarely sell as many as half of their allotted wheelchair spaces, say teams and consultants. Brokers know that, even after a sellout, they can get those seats.
“The fraud issue is one that we’re concerned about,” said John Wodatch, chief of the Department of Justice’s civil rights division, which enforces the ADA. “It’s a hard nut to crack.”
Many teams and concert promoters hold wheelchair spots for 24 to 72 hours after all other seats are gone. That’s a common policy meant to give disabled patrons a fair chance at the seats before they’re offered to the broader market.
“But what it’s also done is allow these StubHub schmucks to have that 72 hours to know those seats are open and grab them,” McGuire said. “They’re going to get them every time. They know you can’t ask them about a disability. They know the rules better than the people with disabilities, and they abuse it to the extreme.
“Next thing you know all these people are buying wheelchair tickets for an event in a state they don’t live in. And then they’re on eBay. And it’s LOL. Laugh out loud.”
The Yankees declined requests for interviews for this story. Many other teams also declined to discuss the matter, citing fears that shining a light on it will only attract more profiteers.
No team in sports deals with as difficult a dynamic as the Yankees on this front. Not only are their tickets in high demand, but their policies for releasing them to other buyers were set as the result of the settlement of disabled access complaints in 1999. They only release wheelchair tickets on a rigid schedule laid out in that agreement.
Beginning at 4 p.m., five days before a game, they may make available one third of the wheelchair seats that they haven’t sold. Two days before the game, they can offer one-third of what remains at that point. The day before the game, they can offer one half of what’s left. Ninety minutes before a game — or two hours on weekends or holidays — they can offer what’s still not sold in six sections. They must hold what’s left in six other sections up until first pitch. The settlement says a wave of tickets can be released beginning at 4 p.m. each day.
Brokers can watch the clock and pounce.
The settlement also attached many of those seats to the ballpark’s two lowest price points — now $12 and $19. Even the highest priced seats come at a discount of 23 percent. Plus, the Yankees are one of few teams that allows buyers to purchase accessible seating online. That means a quick, easy, impersonal transaction.
You couldn’t craft a more hospitable environment for a savvy scalper.
In May, an eBay user who bought wheelchair tickets to two Yankees games posted a plea for advice on the site’s message boards after he read on the team’s Web site that the tickets were meant only for disabled fans. He wrote that he contacted the seller, who told him that the Yankees did not enforce the policy. He said the seller refunded his money after he outed him to the Yankees.
The eBay user did not respond to e-mails requesting an interview. The seller — the aforementioned “rocknrollnsports,” who at the time had completed more than 600 eBay transactions — no longer is registered under that name.
The problem isn’t unique to the Yankees, or to baseball. Three weeks ago, an eBay seller listed wheelchair tickets for two Patriots games, against the Steelers and the Eagles. Again, the attraction was wide berth. The listing trumpeted them as “great seats for us big-boned Pats … fans.”
Informed of the sale, Patriots executives said they were unable to match the tickets with their owner, but would keep a closer eye on that section this season.
“We tell our fans that these are designed for wheelchair users and that we will be monitoring, and that’s all we can do,” said Dan Murphy, vice president of business development and external affairs for Gillette Stadium. “The people who sit in those sections generally are the ones who police it pretty well. If they don’t think you belong there, you’re going to hear about it.”
So why hasn’t the Justice Department, which enforces the ADA, taken aim on so obvious a problem? Consider it from the side of the seller. And take the scalpers out of the equation.
Kim Blackseth, an ADA consultant who is a paraplegic, has season tickets for Golden State Warriors games. His seats — a wheelchair space and companion — are courtside. Like many people who have season tickets in baseball, basketball or hockey, he goes to many games and gives away, or sells, the ones he doesn’t use.
When the Warriors made the playoffs this season, Blackseth couldn’t make all the games. So he sold them. “They were great seats,” Blackseth said, “and I got a premium for them.”
He did not sell them to a wheelchair user. Blackseth argues that limiting him in that manner would be as discriminatory as refusing to accommodate his wheelchair.
“I’m not suggesting there is no fraud,” Blackseth said. “But don’t leap to the conclusion that there’s something funny going on just because you see able-bodied people sitting in those seats.”
Sports Business Journal
July 9, 2007
By Bill King
The Americans with Disabilities Act has been law for 17 years, but is it working in sports? In the first of a two-part series, SportsBusiness Journal examines why the law still remains a work in progress.
He went barreling down the incline from street level to Fenway Park’s main concourse, sticking out his right arm to hook a concrete post and turn 90 degrees. From there, Kevin McGuire began the climb up a steep hill that led to his destination: an elevator to the club level, and a wheelchair space overlooking third base.
McGuire, 46 and still fit from years of basketball and tennis, navigated the rugged terrain with aplomb. He has been without the use of his legs since age 7, when a drunk driver veered into a neighbor’s front yard, where McGuire was playing ball.
As a child, his parents pushed him to be independent, demanding that he be placed in mainstream classes. When he went off to Boston University, they insisted that he make the drive, belongings in tow, alone. He was elected student body president and went on to law school at Georgetown.
Since 1991, he has owned and operated a Boston-based consultancy that specializes in compliance with disability laws, working mostly on the side of teams, facilities and concert promoters.
A few steep slopes will not keep McGuire from getting anywhere, and certainly won’t keep him from a difficult to come by, birds-eye perch with Disabilities Act into law during a White at Fenway on this night, with Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants in town.
He will pop over a curb when others block his way. He will churn uphill, jaw clenched and arms pumping, stopping to chatand joke with strangers as they clear space for him in an elevator. He will get to his wheelchair space in time to spy Bonds stretching along the left field line before the game. And when those in the rows in front of him rise, first for the national anthem and then to cheer the return of World Series hero Dave Roberts, he will point out the unobstructed view.
“We’re lucky up here,” McGuire said, scanning the crowd. “Now that everybody is standing, a lot of people in wheelchair seats can’t see a thing.”
Signed into law on July 26, 1990, by the previous President Bush, the Americans with Disabilities Act was meant to guarantee people with disabilities equal opportunities for employment, transportation, government services, telecommunications, commercial facilities and public accommodations.
Inherent in the latter two is the right to enjoy a sporting event or concert as others do.
Fifteen years after the ADA went into effect, those who design, build and run the stadiums and arenas that house those events say they still are sorting out precisely what that means, wary that a mistake or misinterpretation might get them sued.
Some of the more tangible requirements are spelled out numerically, in feet, inches and percentages in a comprehensive document known as the ADAAG (ADA Accessibility Guidelines), which reads similarly to a building code.
A wheelchair space must be at least 33 inches wide and four to five feet deep, depending on whether you arrive at it from the side or rear, and it must include three more feet behind it to allow for movement. Service counters and cash registers must include a section that is no higher than 36 inches. Stadiums and arenas that opened after 1990 must offer wheelchair locations equal to 1 percent of their seating capacity: 650 for a 65,000-seat football stadium, with room for another 650 “companion seats” positioned next to them.
But other matters are left to interpretation.
The one-to-one ratio of companion seats to wheelchair spaces seems to be at odds with the purchasing habits of ticket buyers, who typically attend games in groups of three or four. Is it fair to break up a family of four because one member is in a wheelchair, when an able-bodied family of four can land tickets together? It would seem not. But the ADA never addresses the matter directly.
Teams and the consultants who help craft their ADA policies say that phrases like “reasonable accommodation,” “readily achievable” and “equally distributed” cry out for clearer definition.
The standards applied to buildings that were constructed before the ADA are even murkier. There is no grandfather clause within the ADA but older buildings are given significantly more latitude. While there are only a handful of those left in pro sports — Fenway, Wrigley Field and Madison Square Garden, for example — most college stadiums fit that designation. Every time a university upgrades its hallowed football stadium, it must reconsider where those renovations place it in light of ADA standards, and how much it will cost to fix any shortcomings.
Complicating matters further are split decisions that have been rendered in federal courts across the country. A court in Washington, D.C., ruled 10 years ago that wheelchair users are entitled to lines of sight over standing spectators, a standard that the U.S. Department of Justice, which enforces the ADA, has since endorsed. A year later, a federal court in Oregon disagreed. And, in October, a federal court in California ruled that California Speedway need not provide sight lines over standing spectators because the government still has not properly enacted the rule. That case is under appeal.
All of this frustrates many architects, who are used to dealing with the certainties of building codes. Ed Roether, the ADA specialist at architecture firm HOK Sport, points to building code changes that already have been enacted in response to a nightclub fire that killed 100 in Rhode Island in 2003.
“In ADA, we’re still struggling with what the hell it meant 15 or 16 years ago,” Roether said.
If the ADA dealt only with measurables, architects and operators would have fewer questions. But the ADA is not a building code, written to protect people from a fire or a collapse. It is civil rights law, meant to protect them from discrimination.
That’s a far more interpretive matter, particularly in stadiums and arenas, which spread thousands of people across large spaces at varied heights.
“We have spent a lot of our time dealing with sports stadium issues,” said John Wodatch, a civil rights attorney who oversees the Justice Department’s disability rights section, “because we’ve gotten a lot of complaints about them.”
An ADA complaint can be costly. The Justice Department can seek fines of up to $55,000 for a first violation and $110,000 for a second violation. Federal Disabled people, like many fans, enjoy attending disability law does not allow plaintiffs to sue for sporting events in small groups yet often face limits damages. They can only of just one companion seat in wheelchair sections demand repairs, plus attorneys fees. But seven set aside by stadiums and arenas. states, including California, allow for damages. In large facilities, a “repair” might constitute ripping out rows of seats or resurfacing concourses.
With the stakes so high, many teams and architects hire consultants such as McGuire to point out problems before they lead to lawsuits.
“You have the law itself, with pages and pages of guidelines and regulations, and yet you still have these hazy terms and you have to have court decisions to determine what they should mean,” McGuire said. “But this has been the law for a long time now. We’ve had court decisions. In most cases, people really should understand what they’re supposed to do.”
For their part, the Red Sox point to tens of millions they have spent to make most of the ballpark’s concourses and rest rooms wheelchair accessible. They have put in four elevators, added wheelchair spaces in the front row, and blown out three rows of seats at the top of the right-field grandstand to create clear lines of sight for 17 wheelchair spaces. Late last month, they were working on gaining city approval to install an elevator that would lead to seats atop the Green Monster.
Janet Marie Smith, the noted architect who has redesigned Fenway, estimates that about one-third of the approximately $100 million that John Henry’s ownership group has spent on renovations in the last five years has gone toward ADA compliance.
“We feel that ADA is not a burden or something to be pushed aside, but rather something to embrace,” Smith said. “It’s the right thing to do. It’s also the law.
“I realize that a building that is 95 years old still has a long way to go, but I hope the ownership gets credit for something that has been an annual effort to make Fenway better.”
Making Fenway’s concourses accessible has been particularly cumbersome. Three had to be torn out and redone. Smith said the concourse McGuire traveled, which stretches from home plate down the first base line, is the only one the Red Sox have not made accessible, in part because they haven’t done any other work in that area and in part because the slope and angles will make it even more difficult to fix than the rest.
That concourse also happened to be included on the shortest path between the only will-call window at which you can pick up wheelchair accessible tickets on game day, and the elevator up to McGuire’s seats that night.
McGuire said he was skeptical about the Sox spending anything close to $30 million on ADA compliance, based on what he’s seen. He pointed out that the wheelchair spaces atop the Green Monster had to be redesigned twice before they met ADA standards, and that new construction in right field also ran afoul when it opened and had to be fixed. He said he reported both to the Boston-based Disability Law Center, an advocacy group that last year honored the team for improving quality of life for the disabled.
“If they really cared they wouldn’t have screwed up on right field and they wouldn’t have screwed up on the monster seats,” McGuire said. “And people with disabilities wouldn’t have to go to . . . advocacy groups to get them to do it right.”
Three years ago, the government agency that crafts the aforementioned ADAAG — the guidelines that serve as an architect’s road map on ADA issues — wrote a sweeping revision that included mostly minor tweaks and clarifications with regard to stadiums and arenas.
With one exception.
Hearing for years from architects and operators who complained that wheelchair users were buying fewer than half of the spaces that the law mandated that they provide, the Access Board reduced the required number from 1 percent of capacity to 0.5 percent.
It may not sound like much. But for an NBA or NHL team that sells out most of its games in an arena that seats18,000, cutting the number of required wheelchair spaces by 90 can set off a mighty revenue multiplier. Because a wheelchair space is deeper than a standard row and wider than a standard seat, one row with eight wheelchair spaces can easily convert to 20 or 30 additional seats.
Stretch that out across 41 games and you’ve got about survey that said they hold 10,000 more tickets that a team can sell. At an average wheelchair locations open of $40 each, that’s $410,000 in unlocked revenue.
“We got huge numbers of calls from the industry saying, ‘Can we use the new guidelines now? Can we use them now?’,” said Marsha Mazz, an accessibility specialist with until the Access Board. “We’ve had to fend off those calls, saying ‘No, no.’ At this point, I think they’re all out there, waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
The “other shoe” would be adoption of the new ADAAG by the Justice Department, a process that has taken so long that many in the business are skeptical of whether it will ever happen. You see, while the ADAAG and the ADA are joined at the hip, the ADAAG, by itself, is not law. Its revisions won’t be enforceable until the Justice Department adopts them.
That hasn’t happened, leaving them in bureaucratic limbo.
“They’ve written a whole new document, which is a lot better, and it’s sitting there,” said Craig Stockwell, an associate principal and project manager at sports architect HKS, which designed the NFL stadiums now under construction for the Indianapolis Colts and Dallas Cowboys. “We have to notify the owners that it’s out there. We’re bound to tell our clients about that. As soon as they look at it, they want to use it.”
To do so at this point, Mazz said, would be “foolhardy.”
It does appear that there soon will be movement, though. Wodatch said late last month that the revisions should move into their next stage by February, when they’ll be published along with an accompanying document laying out more specific rules on matters such as ticket policies.
The latter part of that will be of interest to many who call and e-mail his office, pleading for clarifications.
After at least 60 days of public comment, the rules go back to the Justice Department for revision, and then get sent on for an impact analysis. They would be implemented in 2009. The reduction of wheelchair space requirements may make it all the way through that bureaucratic pingpong process. Or it may not.
Disability rights advocates point out that the law already allows teams to sell wheelchair spaces to able-bodied fans as season tickets once the rest of the seats on a level have been sold, and to convert unsold spaces into temporary seating for individual games and concerts. They can’t see why the government should cut the requirement in half when teams already can sell unused spaces.
They also argue that wheelchair usage is increasing as people live longer and yet remain active. About 2.7 million of 32 million severly disabled Americans use wheelchairs. Children with disabilities grow up doing many of the same things as their classmates, so it’s likely they’ll do many of the same things as their neighbors as adults. Plus, sports venues have decades worth of perception to overcome.
One disabled fan who was at Fenway on the same night as McGuire, John Kelly, was visiting for the first time in 10 years. He hadn’t been back because on his last trip, he sat along the first base line and couldn’t see over the people in front of him.
“People with disabilities do not have a history of feeling like they can go to sporting events,” Wodatch said. “Because they were never welcome, these were never places to go. As people understand those opportunities are available to them, there will be an increase [in use].”
For all the work that architects have done to create spaces that offered clear views and integrate them throughout the seating bowls, most teams report that wheelchair users buy fewer than half of what the law requires they provide.
As a result, designers have made a priority of creating spaces that can flex between wheelchairs and rows of seats.
“When it comes down to it, there’s a revenue issue here,” said Chris Lamberth, director of business development for 360 Architecture, which designed American Airlines Arena in Dallas and Nationwide Arena in Columbus. “The facility operator needs to be able to adapt when they don’t need that wheelchair seat.”
The ADA allows for the practice. Teams and promoters are not expected to forgo revenue in order to provide an accommodation that no one will use. But the Justice Department has warned operators to tread carefully when filling in wheelchair spaces. It has heard complaints that once teams put “temporary” seating in atop wheelchair spaces, they tend not to take it out.
“Too many times, those wheelchair seats disappear forever,” said McGuire, the ADA consultant. “The wheelchair users have a right to that seat before someone else does, but they’ve got no idea that it’s even supposed to be there, and no one tells them. So how can they buy it?”
That was one of the complaints in a lawsuit that a group filed in November 2002, against Kroenke Sports, owners and operators of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche and their arena, the Pepsi Center.
The design of the building included aluminum platforms that were to be placed over seats, creating wheelchair spaces at the center of the lower bowl. But when several disabled people tried to buy those spaces for various events, they were told the spaces didn’t exist.
“As we began to talk to them, it became clear that there really were no platforms, or that they were up in somebody’s attic,” said Amy Robertson, the Denver attorney whose firm represented the group, and also recently negotiated a record $13 million ADA settlement with Kmart. “We asked that it be built OK. It wasn’t. But they were friendly and quick to fix it after they got sued.”
Unfortunately, Kroenke could not remedy the problem immediately, because the locations were sold as season tickets. The settlement requires that they be converted as people give them up. It also calls for occasional monitoring of the arena’s ticket sales practices.
“I think we’re better prepared now than we were prior to that to assist and serve the needs of the accessible needs patron,” said Paul Andrews, executive vice president of Kroenke Sports. “But I don’t think there was anyone to blame. I think if we’d actually gone to court who knows what the interpretation would have been. The law is written pretty ambiguously.”
Another point that isn’t clear deals with the way teams deal with unused wheelchair spaces.
“There is a real question as to, OK, at what point in time can you actually sell that wheelchair space to someone else,” said Roether, of HOK. “That’s really tough to get your arms around.”
While that’s not laid out in the ADA, Deval Patrick, now governor of Massachusetts, spelled out the federal government’s position on it in a letter he sent to the commissioners of baseball, the NFL, NBA and NHL in October 1996, when he was assistant attorney general in charge of civil rights.
“Before wheelchair locations can be replaced with other seating,” he wrote, “all other seats in the stadium must first be sold.”
Straightforward as that may sound, it does not address a more complicated question: What the policy should be when a team sells almost all its seats to season subscribers, as many NFL teams do.
The New England Patriots’ home, Gillette Stadium, opened in 2002 with a mix of concrete wheelchair areas that could be filled in with temporary seating, and aluminum platforms that can be removed to reveal three rows of seats. It is a model of flexibility.
Dan Murphy, vice president of business development and external affairs for the stadium, estimates that removing a platform that fits for better options for attending sporting events. 20 wheelchairs would reveal about 90 seats. Soon after the stadium opened, the team received state approval to remove some platforms and sell the seats under them as season tickets, so long as they held open at least 250 more wheelchair spots than they had sold, on average, the previous year. Able-bodied fans who buy those season seats agree to be relocated the following season if a wheelchair user requests them.
Last season, the team sold 208 wheelchair and companion spots as season tickets, spread across 81 accounts. It held open an additional 380 for single-game sales, and relocation of fans who bought or were given standard seats, but needed wheelchair spots. Murphy said they could have met those demands and removed more platforms, but chose not to. Instead, they’ve donated wheelchair spots to local advocacy groups.
“Although they’re temporary in nature, they’re permanent in our eyes at this point,” Murphy said. “I don’t want to sound corny here. But it’s really just doing the right thing.”
Neither the ADA, nor the guidelines, bridges the gap between what is right and what is required when it comes to release of wheelchair seats for games that are sold out.
“There are sometimes some immeasurables,” Mazz said. “We try as hard as we can to make all of this quantifiable and measurable. Some of the hard questions are in the immeasurable and unquantifiable area.”
A minimum distance between rows is measurable. More difficult is a policy that ensures that a fan in a wheelchair can buy two, three or four seats together at the same range of prices offered to other fans, when only one out of 100 seats — or even fewer in the case of older buildings — are fit for wheelchairs.
Four days before the Red Sox game against the Giants, which had been sold out for months, the team put a handful of additional seats on sale in two sections — $23 bleacher seats and $45 right-field box seats. The only wheelchair seat available with an adjacent companion seat was in the pavilion club, priced at $158 each.
After a second call to the box office and a measure of prodding, the Red Sox also offered up a wheelchair spot in the grandstands, but could only provide a companion seat one row down and three seats over.
While the guidelines clearly require that companion seats be shoulder-to-shoulder with wheelchair spaces, a Red Sox ticketing executive said they sometimes end up with a stand-alone wheelchair space in a row because they’ve accommodated someone who wanted to bring more than one companion.
“That happens a lot,” said Ron Bumgarner, vice president of ticketing for the Red Sox. “We’re always trying to say yes to every request we get.”
Red Sox fans are less likely than others to be bothered by a separation, Bumgarner said, because they know that demand at Fenway is so high, even for single seats. “In a nonaccessible seating category, if I can get Row 6 and Row 12, gosh, that’s almost a pair,” Bumgarner said. “But, having said that, we try to stick to a hard-line policy of one-to-one that keeps them together.”
Twenty-one of 34 stadiums and arenas that responded to a question about companion seating in a SportsBusiness Journal syrvery said their policy was to provide one companion seat per wheelchair user. Further interviews revealed that some of those are flexible when asked for more. But Wodatch said his office has found that many aren’t.
In this case, the wording of the ADA regulation, which requires one companion seat for each wheelchair spot, departs from the intent of a law meant to give disabled people the same options as others.
“They should be able to sit together,” Wodatch said. “I have disabled people in my office who don’t go [to a game] because a father can’t go with his two kids and watch them. He can’t sit with them both.”
Bumgarner said the Sox don’t often sell out of wheelchair tickets, and that their policy is to hold unsold wheelchair and companion seats open until 72 hours before game time, at which point they begin to release them in phases, holding back some for exchange all the way up until game time.
“It’s very difficult,” Mazz said. “All we know how to do on our end is to write a technical standard that tells you how to provide that sight line, how big the wheelchair space is, what an accessible route is, and all of that. And to tell you to associate one companion seat with it and line it up shoulder to shoulder.
“And we think all of that is a pretty big job.”
Sight lines have been the most contentious of any ADA issue touching stadiums and arenas.
The Justice Department says it began looking into the work of sports architecture firm Ellerbe Becket in August 1994 after receiving complaints that the Rose Garden, home to the Portland Trail Blazers, did not meet ADA standards because, among a litany of other things, its wheelchair locations did not provide sight lines over standing spectators.
Soon after, a similar complaint came from disabled patrons at the Fleet Center in Boston, another building that Ellerbe designed. When the investigators began checking the rest of Ellerbe’s work, they diagnosed similar problems in arenas it designed in Cleveland, Philadelphia and Buffalo. Disabled rights groups filed civil lawsuits involving Ellerbe-designed arenas in Washington, D.C., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
In October 1996, the government went after the firm with a case it filed in federal court in Minneapolis, where Ellerbe is headquartered. In it, the Justice Department bundled all the arenas, charging Ellerbe Becket with engaging in “a pattern or practice of illegal discrimination.”
Ellerbe eventually settled the overarching case by agreeing to design with standing spectators in mind in the future. The Rose Garden and MCI Center cases each yielded decisions that went largely against the architect and building operators. From those have come many of the clarifications that underpin what today is considered accessible design.
“I’ll go to my grave knowing that what we were doing in our buildings was without precedent in terms of the extent of accommodation,” said Bill Crockett, national director of sports for Ellerbe Becket, who joined the firm in 1990, the same year Congress passed the ADA. “They were without peer. We really thought we were giving our clients options … not representing ourselves as experts in the ADA, because it was untested, but as experts in arena design trying to come up with ways to approach it.
“We do think that now we’re experts, with the benefit of 10 years of learning and exploration.”
The Justice Department points to the Olympic Stadium Ellerbe designed for use in 1996 in Atlanta (now Turner Field) as a model of accessibility
To be fair, many besides Ellerbe went into the ADA era thinking that the old way of looking at sight lines was basketball games fine. McGuire argued as much on behalf of the Fleet Center when he consulted on the project during its construction.
Then he went to an event there.
“All you saw was the Levi patch of the person standing in front of you,” McGuire said. “Once the building opened up,I realized there was a problem. I understand that. I get it. I was wrong.”
While most agree that the courts have resolved the issue of blocked views, architects say some complex seating issues remain. The ADAAG requires that wheelchairs be distributed at various angles around the seating bowl and at various prices. Those are easily understood. But it also requires that they be distributed from bottom to top.
“What is the correct number of rows?” asked Stockwell, the HKS architect. “I wish somebody [at the Justice Department] could tell me, because it’s going to kick back to me when it goes to the courts.”
Roether, the ADA expert at HOK, said vertical distribution is among the more daunting aspects of accessible design, in part because doing more of it can put wheelchairs in places that put them at risk in an emergency, such as a fire.
But attorneys say that argument hasn’t always prevailed.
Years ago, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority would not sell wheelchair spots on the floor for boxing, wrestling or concerts held at its arena, saying it could not safely get wheelchairs out of the building if there were a fire.
Jim Weisman, a noted ADA attorney who won a landmark case against the transit authority in New York, challenged them on it, and other issues. When they argued the case in front of a judge, Weisman facetiously asked whether they should move the hearing from the fifth-floor courtroom, where those in wheelchairs might be in danger.
“This is the risk assumed by people with a disability every day,” Weisman said. “You have to show the probability of harm, not possibility of harm, in order to make that kind of discrimination lawful.”
The fact that the discussion has moved from whether wheelchairs could be segregated into ghettos behind the basket, a hockey goal, a baseball corner or a football end zone, as they were for decades, into the finer points debated by architects today speaks to a noteworthy evolution.
“We’re all trying to do the right thing,” Lamberth said. “Nobody is trying to get around or get by it.”
When San Diego Padres owner John Moores took a visitor on a tour of Petco Park as it was set to open three years ago, he pointed out an elevator that architects had to install next to a few steps that led to the home bullpen, because the ADA requires an accessible path of travel to all team areas.
“I hope we don’t sign anybody who needs that,” Moores joked.
They haven’t. But the ADA requires that the disabled be able to move freely throughout a venue, including onto the field and into dugouts. All locker rooms and clubhouses also must be accessible, with showers designed to accommodate disabilities. The Padres knew when they asked HOK for a small dugout next to the bullpen that they’d have to add an elevator.
“There are many things in ADA law that are very clear,” said Erik Judson, who oversaw the development of Petco for the Padres and now is a principal with Moores’ recently launched sports development firm, JMI Sports. “And that is one that is very clear. It was a no-brainer.”
Because the ADA also guarantees equal access to employment, buildings must be designed so that almost everyone can get almost everywhere, including locker rooms and dugouts. While a wheelchair or other mobility limitation would preclude someone from playing in the NBA, it wouldn’t necessarily keep them from working in a front office, on a medical staff, or as a newspaper reporter or an electrician or at any number of jobs that might take them beyond the seating bowl.
“It used to be there was the public, and then there were people who can’t walk,” Weisman said. “Now, the public includes people who can’t walk, or who have low vision, or who are hearing impaired. Designers of stadiums are getting it. They have a much more inclusive view of who the audience is.”
From behind the haze of a complex law that is taking decades to sort out, every so often someone says something that clarifies and cleanses.
Mazz, the accessibility specialist with the government operators struggle with board that writes the guidelines, boils the contradictions out of the debate by focusing on the law’s intent.
“It’s all about equity,” Mazz said. “It’s about giving folks with disabilities essentially the same wonderful — or lousy— opportunities that you give everybody else.”
When considering colleges as a high school student in a small town north of West Point, McGuire chose Boston University. It had a reputation as an accessible place. Even there, McGuire found hurdles.
When he visited friends in an older dorm, McGuire entered through the back door and rode a freight elevator that carried fruits and vegetables to the cafeteria. He dreaded the days when he would arrive after the onions.
“Still, that was access to me, and that was OK,” McGuire said. “Pre-ADA, you didn’t have very high expectations. But it’s different now. These kids growing up now are going to have a whole different set of expectations. All you have to do is go to their schools and see them being treated like all the other kids to realize that, when they grow up, they’re not going to be like I was.
“They’re not going to ride the freight elevator any more.”
Source: SportsBusiness Journal research
DAILY LABOR REPORT
June 8, 2006
Ensure Meeting Special Needs of Disabled In Emergency Prep Plans, Employers Say
In making emergency evacuation plans, employers must take particular notice of the needs of their disabled workers--some of whom may have undisclosed or temporary disabilities--according to participants in a June 7 roundtable discussion sponsored by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The panel members, who included representatives of large and small employers, a disability consulting firm, and the Department of Homeland Security, concurred that a comprehensive evacuation plan must address the needs of disabled employees.
EEOC Commissioner Christine Griffin, who moderated the discussion, and David Sutherland, civil rights officer for the Department of Homeland Security, both said the issue has received increasing attention since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and, more recently, Hurricane Katrina.
Sutherland, who heads an interagency coordinating council addressing emergency preparedness for the disabled, said there has been "tremendous movement and interest" on the concerns in both the public and private sectors since last October.
The council, established under a July 2004 Executive Order, has a Web site providing practical information on how people with and without disabilities can prepare for an emergency and including information for emergency planners and first responders to help them to better prepare for serving people with disabilities (http://www.disabilitypreparedness.gov <http://www.emergencypreparedness.gov> ).
Differing Needs Call for Specific Plans, Manager Says
The accommodation needs of the disabled are "complex and very different," observed Patty O'Sullivan, the global disability manager for Agilent Technologies in California. In order to develop a comprehensive emergency evacuation plan, an employer must be aware of those needs and establish "disability-specific procedures," she said.
O'Sullivan added that involvement of the disabled employees at both the development and implementation stage of any plan is particularly important, as is input from human resources, security, and local government. "It's critically important that everyone has an emergency preparedness role," she said.
"Proactive companies need to continuously reach out" to their disabled employees, said Kevin McGuire, a disability accessibility consultant, and every employee needs the "basic skills" to be able to assist a disabled co-worker, in the case of an emergency. The issue of emergency evacuation should be a mandatory subject during employee orientation, he maintained.
Dr. K. Andrew Crighton, the chief medical officer of Prudential Financial, said that his company develops an individual plan for the evacuation of every disabled employee, which includes two volunteers to assist in their evacuation. The plans are stored in several places, including at the facility's front desk, he said.
In addressing the safe evacuation needs of their disabled employees, employers need to be concerned about hidden and temporary disabilities, Crighton added. Employees "may be hesitant to come forward," he said, citing the example of an employee with asthma, working on an upper level floor, who faced difficulty in making a lengthy descent by stairs.
Prudential also holds mandatory evacuation drills each year. "We can never be too complacent," Crighton said.
EEOC addressed the same topic during an October 2005 meeting (206 DLR A-1, 10/26/05 <http://pubs.bna.com/ip/bna/dlr.nsf/5f64d1a440715be485256b57005ac7d2/6215a3b431ca42ca852570a6000896bd?OpenDocument> ) and also has issued a fact sheet with employer guidance on obtaining and using employee medical information during emergency evacuation plans (available on EEOC's Web site at http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/evacuation.html).
The agency scheduled the roundtable discussion as part of a "continuing dialogue" and to encourage more participation from private employers, said Chair Cari Dominguez.End of article graphic <http://portal.mxlogic.com/images/transparent.gif>
March 13, 2005
CEO's PART OF THE SOLUTION
He is the man with the answers to accessibility issues - yet
spent more than 15 minutes watching two men tinker with the portable
microphone before he could begin his speech on accommodating
In a wheelchair since the age of 7 after being hit by a drunken
McGuire couldn't reach the lectern microphone, which was designed
used by someone standing.
"People don't think the different scenarios all the way
Though a simple matter of technical difficulties and not insensitivity,
Monday's incident at Mount Saint Mary College typified what McGuire
sought to bring about for almost 15 years: better accommodations
disabled in a world geared for those who are able-bodied.
After the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted by Congress
1990, McGuire, now 44, founded McGuire Associates Inc., a consulting
firm that aims to help public and private institutions abide
by the law.
One of the nation's leading consultants on the ADA, he has
such big-name construction jobs and events as the Kodak Theater
Angeles, the Boston Symphony Hall and last year's Democratic
Local clients have included the Richard B. Fisher Center for
Performing Arts at Bard College, the Newburgh School District
Town of New Windsor.
In addition, the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, prompted him to
Disabled Evacuation Plan after hearing stories about disabled
stuck in the towers, unable to get out.
The Newburgh native has offices in his hometown and in Waltham,
but spends much of his time traveling and says he has racked
million frequent-flier miles.
He encourages companies to plan ahead in order to meet the
people who will use a building. "Proactive solutions, not
responses," is his company's motto.
"It's very helpful to have an expert on hand," said
director of communications at Bard College, "so you don't
in the situation of having to retrofit."
Often times it's more than just the law; it's good business.
"They are employed, they are disabled and they have dollars
McGuire said. "And retailers are beginning to recognize
"We spent a lot of money on our facility, and we wanted
it to be the
best in the industry," said Brad Mayne, president and CEO
Operating Co., which built and manages the American Airlines
Dallas. Mayne hired McGuire as a consultant in addition to organizing
11-member accessibility advisory committee.
"We wanted to make sure we were accessible to anyone,"
Doug Hovey, executive director of Independent Living Inc.,
advocacy group in Newburgh, said it makes a profound statement
stadiums, arenas and theaters are accessible to everyone.
"All of these things define the human experience and
help us to define
our quality of life," Hovey said.
"It's more than just the law," McGuire said. "Ninety
percent of the ADA
Kevin McGuire, founder, chairman and CEO of McGuire Associates
knows a thing or two about starting a successful business.
What's the most important thing in starting a business?
"It is really about the goal. My goal when I first started
was to make
the calls, send the letters. I really hustled. My advice to everyone
when they're getting into a business is set those goals; daily
not just weekly goals. When you set a goal you have to work hard
How did you go about starting the business?
"You have to look at the capital. How much money do you
have and how can
you stretch it? And then the next step is creating an entity
you look bigger than you are. It's not a matter of how many people
for you, it's how you present yourself. No one knew when I first
that I was working out of an office building my dad owned, so
important to create an image. My target was always the Fortune
companies, so my papers always look like something a Fortune
would want to read."
How do you find a niche market?
"It's one thing to find a niche, it's another to be qualified.
to know the niche once you get into it. You have to go for something
that you're good at. I know I'm good at access issues."
McGuire's speech Monday was one in a series of entrepreneurial
hosted by the business department at Mount Saint Mary College.
speech in the series will be given by Dr. Lynda Klau, a clinical
psychologist and executive coach, and is scheduled for Monday,
at 7:30 p.m. in Aquinas Hall, room 234.
Developing an evacuation plan for people with disabilities
by Kevin G. McGuire
When I was seven years old, I was hit by a drunk driver, which
left me paralyzed from the waist down, forcing me to use a wheelchair.
In addition to the normal challenges in life, I've had to worry
about such things as inaccessible buildings and restrooms, lack
of curb cuts, and inoperable elevators.
I'm not alone. Roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population is
disabled, including those who have mobility impairments, who
are deaf or hard of hearing, who are blind or partially sighted,
people of size, the elderly, those who have cognitive or emotional
impairments, and those who are vertically challenged.
In 1990, President George Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities
Act (ADA), requiring that all newly constructed buildings be
accessible to people with disabilities. The law also requires
that buildings constructed before the ADA was enacted remove
barriers when readily achievable.
Over time, the private sector and the federal government have
addressed many of these features, barriers, and obstacles. Such
codes as NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®; NFPA 5000®,
Building Construction and Safety Code®; the International
Building Code; and ICC/ANSI A117.1, American National Standard
for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities, have made
the spirit and intent of the ADA legislation a reality.
Just as important as making the stock of new buildings accessible,
however, is the need to address the safety of the buildings'
occupants, regardless of disability, during an emergency. Although
building owners, managers, and tenants now understand that people
with disabilities must be allowed into their facilities, these
same people often fail to grasp that, legally, they must modify
existing evacuation plans to ensure that people with disabilities
can safely get out.
We have all heard stories about people being trapped in buildings
during fires, earthquakes, and blackouts. During such emergencies,
people with disabilities, particularly those with mobility impairments,
are even more at risk.
In one case, a wheelchair user was on the 17th floor of a
building when a fire broke out. She went as instructed to an
area of rescue, a rather standard protocol, where she waited
for more than 45 minutes without any communication. Smelling
smoke and fearing for her life, the woman struggled out of her
wheelchair onto the floor and crawled down hundreds of steps.
When she finally reached safety, she was admonished by fire officials
for not following "instructions."
While many people were able to walk to safety during the September
11 attack on the World Trade Center, one wheelchair user perished
while waiting to be rescued below the impact floors. The blackout
in New York City in the summer of 2003 also highlighted how ill-prepared
building owners are to evacuate people with disabilities.
The disabled community is filled with stories like these,
stories of people let down by evacuation plans or, more often,
faced with plans that make no provision for them.
And the stories are supported by data. In 2001, the National
Organization on Disability released a Harris Poll survey of people
who are employed full or part time. Among those surveyed, 55
percent said no plans had been made to evacuate people with disabilities
safely from their workplace. And most of the plans of those employers
who had them amounted to little more than telling people with
disabilities to head to an area of rescue and wait. While this
may be appropriate in some situations, waiting can increase the
potential for tragedy in others.
It's the law
At the federal level, many ADA concepts are codified in the
Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG),
which state that "Because people with disabilities may visit,
be employed, or be a resident in any building, emergency management
plans with specific provisions to ensure their safe evacuation
also play an essential role in fire safety and life safety."
Similarly, the Title III Technical Assistance Manual notes that
a facility "is obligated to modify its evacuation procedures,
if necessary, to provide alternative means for clients with mobility
impairments to be safely evacuatedwithout using the elevator.
The [facility] should also modify its plan to take into account
the needs of its clients with visual, hearing, and other disabilities."
Non-compliance can result in expensive lawsuits by private individuals
and the Department of Justice.
During a recent emergency evacuation at a Maryland mall, for
example, a wheelchair user shopping in a store on an upper floor
was led out of the store into the mall with the non-disabled
shoppers and into an elevator. However, power to the elevators
was shut off, trapping her inside a car alone. It took 45 minutes
before anyone realized she was missing. Fortunately she survived.
She sued both the mall owner and anchor store and scored a stunning
victory in December when the judge in her case ruled that Title
III of the ADA applies to the evacuation policies of all places
of public accommodation.
Developing a disability evacuation plan
Evacuation plans in general have always been an important
operating feature of a building. A sampling of evacuation requirements
can be found in Section 4.8.2 of NFPA 101, which states that
an evacuation plan should include procedures for reporting emergencies,
spell out occupant and staff response, include fire drills, and
detail the type and coverage of a building's fire protection
systems and other items required by the authority having jurisdiction.
The Life Safety Code also states that an evacuation plan "shall
be reviewed and updated as required by the authority having jurisdiction."
These plans must account for a range of events and be robust
enough to take all types of occupants into consideration. They
must be encompassing, amenable to change, and applicable to a
range of occupants with disabilities.
When I work with clients to develop a disability evacuation
plan (DEP), I advise them to include the following five steps:
* Learn your building. Do this by carefully studying its layout,
taking particular note of all paths of travel, exits, and potential
* Know who in your building is disabled, employees and visitors
* Review your evacuation equipment and signage. If evacuation
signage already exists, make sure it identifies any different
paths that people with disabilities will have to travel.
* Train your staff. You should continually train everyone in
general evacuation procedures.
* Coordinate with emergency response personnel. Review your DEP
with police, fire, and office of emergency management officials.
Learn your building
Learning a building is not as simple as identifying exits.
You must also look at the floor plan and identify potential problem
areas for people with disabilities. The preferred path of travel
to an exit will differ based on the type of disability. For example,
someone who is deaf or hard of hearing can follow the same path
of travel to an exit as someone who is not disabled, while someone
with a mobility impairment may not be able to. Wherever possible,
identify secondary paths of travel to an exit, in case the primary
travel path is blocked.
Local regulations will also come into play here. In certain
locations and circumstances, elevators can be used for emergency
evacuation. In others, however, they cannot. You should check
with your local emergency response personnel to determine your
You should also designate areas of rescue, also known as areas
of refuge, where people with disabilities can await rescue if
they are unable to leave the building. And it's not enough to
send people with disabilities to areas of rescue without a plan
for letting rescue workers know their location. You must have
a strategy for communicating with emergency response personnel,
be it by two-way radio, built-in intercom system, or cell phone.
In each area of rescue, you should post a sign with the name
of the location so that people will know exactly where they are,
even in the excitement of a crisis. Note that areas of rescue
are not the same in all jurisdictions, so it's important to check
your local regulations.
You will have to make some decisions about the use of stairways
during an evacuation. If a stairway is wide enough, someone who
is disabled can evacuate with someone who is not disabled by
staying to one side. If not, you can either stop someone who
is not disabled to allow a person with a disability to exit or
wait until the traffic has thinned out. Once you have decided
what works best for your building, be sure to remember to communicate
it to your staff when training them.
Know your population with disabilities
Knowing the population of people with disabilities in the
building and where they may be located is critical for a successful
One way to get this information is to draft a memo to all
employees asking about their needs during an evacuation. Place
a copy of the memo in employee orientation packets so that, as
your workforce changes, your DEP remains current. You should
also approach employees with visible disabilities to discuss
evacuation issues. As always, you should be respectful of a person's
privacy rights in soliciting any information.
For individuals with cognitive or emotional disabilities,
such as autism or Down Syndrome, emergency evacuation assistance
involves keeping them calm by giving clear instructions during
the evacuation. It's likely these individuals will be able to
use the same routes as the non-disabled, but may do so at a somewhat
And don't forget that some of the building occupants may be
temporarily disabled- with a broken leg, for example. You should
develop a policy requesting that employees inform a designated
person of such a condition and make supervisors responsible for
noting anyone with a visible temporary disability.
Visitors with disabilities, such as guests, clients, and customers,
present a difficult challenge since you may not even know they
are in the building. For tracking purposes, building or floor
sign-in sheets can sometimes help.
Determine appropriate equipment
Depending on the type of building and its obstacles, such
as stairs, certain equipment and signage may be needed. For example,
portable, lightweight evacuating chairs may be needed to help
wheelchair users up and down stairs. Ramps can be helpful in
negotiating one or two steps.
All primary function and public areas should have evacuation
signs showing the means of egress and multiple paths of travel
if the path to be taken by someone with a disability is different
than the one used by the general public. Signs are for directional
purposes and should state as simply as possible, "You are
here, exit this way." Signs that convey too much information,
are difficult to read, or are hard to find can confuse people
and waste valuable time.
Train your staff
A DEP is useless unless employees are trained to execute
it, it is reviewed periodically, and, to the extent possible,
it is practiced. Ongoing training is imperative, and new employees
should receive training as part of their company orientation.
By training your entire staff, you allow anyone to help a person
with a disability in an unforeseen situation.
I advise my clients to assign non-disabled employees to help
specific employees with a disability. You have to give a little
thought to this process. The assistant should work near the person
with a disability and be physically able to help him or her.
Just about anyone can help a person who is partially sighted,
but an elderly co-worker might not be a good match for a quadriplegic
using a power wheelchair. Work schedules, breaks, vacation and
sick days, and travel schedules must also be considered.
Employees should be trained to evacuate people with various
types of disabilities. For instance, there are special techniques
for assisting people who are blind, and these differ depending
on whether the person uses a service animal or not. Similarly,
the techniques for assisting wheelchair users depend on whether
the wheelchair is a power wheelchair. Employees who have been
assigned to assist a specific individual should concentrate on
learning how to help that person.
Training is one area where you may need outside assistance.
The proper techniques, while not difficult to learn, are not
intuitive. In fact, as a wheelchair user, I can tell you that
many well-meaning people have almost thrown me out of my wheelchair
trying to help me down stairs. The mistake: They push my wheelchair
forward and push me right down the stairs. Instead, I train people
to tilt my wheelchair back and take each step slowly. Similarly,
there are techniques to avoid in helping people who are partially
sighted and people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
All employees should be familiar with paths of exit for people
with disabilities. It's easy to forget that a particular path
has a step and cannot be used by a power wheelchair user. You
should also familiarize your employees with the locations of
areas of rescue and specialized evacuation equipment.
The key to it all is practice. You should run frequent evacuation
drills, including people with disabilities whenever possible,
and all employees assigned to help someone with a disability
should practice with that person. If you have bought special
equipment, you should have all employees practice setting up
the equipment; an emergency is not the time to be reading the
Finally, people with disabilities and those assisting them
should be instructed to check in with a supervisor once they
have safely evacuated.
Coordinate with local emergency personnel
You need to discuss and review your DEP with fire, police,
EMTs, and your office of emergency management. Meet with these
officials annually, give them copies of your plan, and discuss
local regulations and requirements. Walk them around your building
so they are familiar with all areas of rescue, and discuss any
concerns about your plan. For example, you will need to coordinate
with them regarding the use of elevators during emergency evacuations.
After my accident, I worried about being able to play ball
with the other kids. Now I worry about my safety whenever entering
a multi-story building because I don't know how comprehensive
the evacuation plan is or how well the staff has been trained.
I have to be concerned every time I stay in a hotel and discover
the evacuation route mounted on the back of the room door fails
to tell me, a wheelchair user, what route to take during an evacuation.
I think about whether or not I will be able to inform rescue
workers of my location if I'm able to reach an area of rescue
during an emergency.
There seems to be a wide public understanding that people
with disabilities must be allowed into public venues. However,
the law also provides for our safe evacuation when we need to
get out of buildings during an emergency.
Fire and building officials and human resource managers should
consider it their responsibility, as much as it is mine, to make
sure building owners include people with all types of disabilities
in their evacuation plans. That way, energy can be spent on training
and awareness, rather than fighting the lawsuits that would inevitably
come with non-compliance.
i Source: U.S. Census Bureau
ii Source: ADA Technical Assistance Manual, III-4.2100 General.,
Kevin G. McGuire is Chairman and CEO of McGuire Associates,
Inc., an ADA consulting firm, and a member of the NFPA Building
Code and the Building Systems technical committees. He is also
a member of NFPA's Disability Access Review and Advisory Committee.
May 28, 2004
Democratic National Convention Planners Release Comprehensive
Accessibility Guide for Delegates
Convention Officials Create Information Guide, Hire Accessibility
Expert to Ensure Accessibility at July's Democratic National
Boston, MA Continuing its unconditional commitment to
host the most accessible and integrated Convention in history,
the 2004 Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) today
released a comprehensive "Accessibility Guide" for
delegates with disabilities. The guide contains detailed information
concerning relevant services and products in the Greater Boston
area to help ensure accessibility for delegates participating
in this year's Convention.
The DNCC also announced today the hiring of an accomplished
leader in the arena of accessibility for public and private facilities.
The addition of Kevin G. McGuire to the existing DNCC team is
the latest step in a comprehensive effort to guarantee the participation
and accessibility of Democratic delegates with disabilities.
"Accessibility for all people with disabilities at this
year's Convention has been a top priority for the DNCC staff,"
said DNCC CEO Rod O'Connor. "Giving delegates our 'Accessibility
Guide' and adding Kevin's expertise will support these efforts
and help ensure that all delegates can fully participate at the
2004 Democratic National Convention."
The DNCC is taking numerous steps to make the Democratic National
Convention accessible, including assembling a team of volunteers
to provide support to individuals with disabilities in utilizing
appropriate transportation services, accommodations, and access
in and around the FleetCenter during Convention week. The volunteer
team will manage a "Guest Services Desk" at the arena,
which will provide assistive listening devices and printed materials
in alternative formats, including Braille.
The DNCC will also provide a wide range of technologies at
the arena, including ASL interpreters on stage during all Convention
proceedings, which will also be captioned. Accessible phone service
and computer service will be available at the FleetCenter and
McGuire has served as an accessibility consultant during design,
construction, or renovation at numerous area arenas and public
facilities, including the New England Patriots' Gillette Stadium,
the Wang Center for the Performing Arts, the Shubert Theatre,
Boston Symphony Hall, and FleetCenter. McGuire advised these
facilities on a host of disability-related access issues, including
wheelchair access and captioning policies for the deaf and hard
of hearing. He also led sensitivity trainings of both management
and frontline staff. McGuire will perform similar duties for
The following article appeared in The New York Times
on September 26, 2003
Theater Group Improves Access for Disabled
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
A group of companies that owns about half of the theaters
on Broadway said yesterday that it had revamped 16 properties,
all of them historical landmarks, to make them more accessible
to theatergoers with disabilities.
The Shubert Organization, whose theaters include the Winter
Garden and the Barrymore, has spent about $5 million to rebuild
auditoriums, bathrooms and ticket counters in 16 theaters, said
Gerald Schoenfeld, the group's board chairman.
The changes bring the theaters into compliance with the Americans
With Disabilities Act, which requires that public buildings provide
access for the handicapped, said Robert W. Sadowski, the assistant
United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.
His office had recommended that theaters make the changes, which
the owners eventually agreed to do.
"What we did was a combination of compulsion and volunteerism,"
Mr. Schoenfeld said at an opening ceremony near one of the newly
upgraded theaters. "We were a willing complier."
Kevin McGuire, a consultant on the theater upgrades, has been
in a wheelchair since 1968 when, as a child, he was struck by
a drunken driver. Watching a Broadway show or a movie, he said,
meant sitting in raked aisles while "people got their share
of popcorn and soda on your shoulder."
To upgrade the theaters, builders unbolted some seats, making
space for wheelchairs. The slope of the floors was adjusted with
concrete. Slots were cut into the marble walls below ticket counters
to enable people in wheelchairs to turn over credit cards and
cash. Bathroom stalls were widened.
All 16 theaters are landmark buildings, with an average age
of 80 years.
The age presented problems for the designers, who had to contend
with narrow aisles and sloped floors. Regulations imposed by
the Fire Department had to conform to historical landmark requirements.
The Americans With Disabilities Act went into effect in 1992.
Under the rules, new buildings must make 1 percent of their seating
available to people in wheelchairs, Mr. Sadowski said. For older
buildings, however, the rules are less clear. They state that
buildings should be made accessible where access is "readily
The group began working on the reconstruction in 1996 after
the federal government recommended the changes.
The owners of some public structures have resisted making
such changes. The federal government had to sue Yankee Stadium
in 1999 before its owners finally agreed to comply, Mr. Sadowski
Even so, New York has come a long way since the 1970's, when,
Mr. McGuire remembers, his father had to carry him over rows
of seats to see a Knicks basketball game. Even a decade later,
as a college student in Rhode Island, attending an Earth Wind
and Fire concert with friends was a lonely experience.
"It was bizarre," he said. "I had to sit off
The following article appeared in The Star-Ledger, Newark,
New Jersey on 3/31/03
By Meg Nugent
The Star-Ledger Staff Writer
Let's say you're an owner or manager of a building -- an office
complex, museum or any
other facility to which the public has access -- and you want
to devise an evacuation plan for
people with disabilities.
There are five major points you need to consider, according
to Kevin McGuire, a wheelchair
user whose company, McGuire Associates Inc., with offices in
New York and Massachusetts,
has devised a "Disability Evacuation Plan" that it
markets to facilities ranging from the
workplace to sports stadiums, arenas, cultural institutions,
school districts and municipalities.
"You need to learn your building," said McGuire,
whose company specializes in helping
organizations comply with regulations established in the Americans
with Disabilities Act. He
said building owners and managers need to identify all emergency
exits and stairwells, areas
of the buildings where foot traffic is heavy, paths of travel
to and from the building, and
"areas of safety" within the building.
Next, get to know the kinds of disabilities that employees
or residents have, as well as the
disabilities of those who frequently visit the facility.
The range of disabilities extends beyond wheelchair users.
People with disabilities also
include those who are blind, visually challenged, deaf or have
a hearing loss; those with
mobility problems who need a cane, walker or crutches; people
who are cognitively or
emotionally impaired; the elderly, and people who are overweight
Once you know the kinds of disabilities you would be dealing
with, you'll be able to
determine the type of equipment, as well as what kind of signs
and storage you should have
in place. If wheelchair users frequent your building, for example,
you may want to purchase
chairs that are specially designed to transport them down stairways.
Be sure to train your staff -- and that means everyone on
staff -- on how to assist a disabled
person during an evacuation, McGuire said. Training everyone,
instead of one or a few
people, will better ensure a disabled person will get the help
he or she needs in an
emergency, he said.
McGuire also strongly suggested that a business coordinate
its evacuation plan with local
emergency response personnel to ensure that it is a well thought
out and effective one.
The following article appeared in San Antonio Express-News
Tour Shines Spotlight on Arena's Accessibility
Group offers praise for features at SBC Center.
By Patrick Driscoll
Express-News Staff Writer
Details such as low counters, convenient places to slide wheelchairs
into and wide spaces in bathrooms and elevators add up to make
the SBC Center a nice place to visit, say people who toured the
arena Friday as part of All Access Night.
"Those are just little features that I'm catching onto
that makes it very convenient for us," said Allen Flores,
who said the experience might convince him to start going basketball
Flores, 44, who has difficulty walking and uses a wheelchair
as a result of polio, served on a committee that advised officials
on how to make the arena accessible to people with sensory, cognitive
or physical disabilities.
Friday was the first time he saw the completed result.
"It's fantastic," he said. "My house is not
even that accessible, to be honest with you."
About 45 people attended the event, which started with a one-hour
tour. They later watched the Spurs play Philadelphia.
There are some minor things to fix such as some railing heights
and loose seats, said Kevin McGuire, an accessibility
consultant for the SBC project. But that's the case in any major
undertaking and will be easy to take care of.
"Changes are going to be made," he told the group
as the tour commenced. "If you see anything, please let
McGuire, who said he has worked on about
70 sporting venues in the past decade, up to half the projects
in the nation, said the SBC Center is the best when it comes
to accessibility. Disabled people have nearly every price range
and sight line available in the bowl, he said.
"We've probably set a new standard for the NBA,"
Adrian Cavallini, whose 11-year-old son, Anthony, uses a wheelchair,
said the parking spot was a little tight but everything else
"Everything in here seems to be very, very accessible,"
he said. "They've really made a great effort."
And that's not the only good thing, according to Anthony.
"The SBC Center is brighter than the Alamodome,"
Lack of Evacuation Plan Spurs Suit
Katie Savage filed a lawsuit against her local mall because
of its lack of an evacuation plan for people with disabilities.
On Sept. 3, 2002, while the nation was on alert for the possibility
of another September terrorist attack, the fire alarm sounded
at the City Place Mall in Silver Spring, MD., and everyone in
the mall was told to evacuate.
"Everyone was running, panic everywhere, people screaming
that there was a bomb, a terrorist in the mall," says Savage.
"I kept thinking to myself, ‘How am I going to get
out of here?'" The exit doors were locked, all elevators
and escalators shut off. Along with a few others who can't use
stairs, she watched shoppers fleeing up the steps until the evacuation
was over. No one ever came to assist her.
Fortunately, there was no emergency -- the panic was caused
by a patron of Gold's Gym who pulled the fire alarm.
Savage, 53, filed the lawsuit with help from the Disability
Rights Council in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 26. "I just
want these malls to comprehend the seriousness of what's happening
in the world and sensitize their employees," says Savage.
Union Tribune - 6/27/96
Don't Strike Out on This Chance to be Heard re: Ballpark Access
by Marilyn Salisbury
Play ball! The San Diego Padres are planning a new ballpark. I'm not going to debate whether we need a new ballpark; we're getting one. I am going to tell you about a meeting with Padres officials regarding accessibility and the new ballpark.
Kevin McGuire, a Boston consultant with a disability who advises ballpark planners in accessibility issues, suggested the first ballpark accessibility meeting, which was held at Qualcomm Stadium earlier this month. More than 100 local residents with disabilities attended.
Access issues on the agenda included: parking, wheelchair and companion seating, ramps, elevators, bathrooms, concession counter heights, employment programs and signs.
Though these are definitely valid issues, the bigger picture includes use of, lack of, common sense.
What does access mean? Does it mean segregated seating areas? Does it mean segregated entrances? Is it a time-worn "separate but equal" issue? Dennis Sharp, a member of the mayor's Citizens Review Committee (which deals with accessibility issues), isn't about to settle for minimum access. "I'm always being accused of asking for more than the minimum," he said. "So, are you content with minimum wage?"
Sharp said he hoped that "an equal amount of money is spent on access issues as is spent on embellishments and design."
Bud Sayles, executive director of The Access Center of San Diego, says that with the graying of America, today's accessibility laws may not address the needs of ballpark attendees in the future.
Sticking to the letter of the law, assuming one knows the law, is a beginning. Both Sharp and Sayles noted that California has one of the toughest accessibility-related building codes in the country. And they're concerned that, because the architects, HOK Sports, are based in Kansas, they may not be up on California laws.
Sharp is looking for ways to make architects more responsive and accountable. "So far, we don't have that," he said.
Heading the meeting were McGuire and representatives from the Padres and HOK Sports.
Hot issues were:
- Service dogs need a service area. Disney's Epcot Center in Florida has an area set aside for toileting service dogs. This idea was definitely a hit.
- Semi-ambulatory seating with removable armrests.
- Concession counter height. Architectural plans propose to make all counters 34 inches tall. A question from the floor was, "What about the height of the condiment counters?"
- Family bathrooms? From the floor :YES!
- From the floor: "Multiple seating arrangements so families can be seated together."
- From the floor: "Wheelchair access to the field?"
"I want to see a globally accessible ballpark and wish that was all I need to say," Sayles said, "I see the meeting as a proactive measure to prevent future lawsuits (regarding access)."
The plan for 13 elevators was impressive, Sayles said. Qualcomm has seven.
After the meeting, Peter Mirche, also a member of the Citizens Review Committee, said, "Because all of the pieces are in place, the new ballpark has the potential of being the most accessible park in the world, but we have to work hard to make it a reality."
Amy Vanderveld, a SanDiego attorney with a disability, said, "With respect to the Padres, it is encouraging to know that they are interested in addressing the concerns of the disabled community before the construction begins"
"I suspect that the current lawsuit against the Padres (and the city over access to Qualcomm) has provided some measure of motivation to include the disabled in the planning process."
"The lawsuit is based primarily on the fact that when the 1996-97 alterations were performed, the area where the Club Section is located (and remodeled).
"No disabled seating of any kind was provided in the Club Section. No wheelchair locations, no aisle transfer seats, no semi-ambulatory seats. Nothing," said Vanderveld.
Remember, this was the first meeting, and more are being planned. Speak up now, while you still might be able to make a difference in the accessibility of the ballpark.
The Access Center of San Diego has been designated as a funnel for information.