Sports Venues and Accessibility

Today, there are more than 43 million Americans with a disability — a number that will grow as the population ages. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 put into place guidelines that prohibit discrimination in several key areas, including access to public facilities, for persons with a disability. On the architectural side, this landmark legislation impacts the design of new facilities and the renovation of existing structures to make access as easy and universal as possible. And designing a sports venue is perhaps one of the greatest challenges of all.

Start Off Right

Randy Bredar, AIA, national director of Sports Architecture for HNTB, has participated in the design of new and renovated sports facilities across the country.“The ADA requires college and university administrators and their architects to look at accessibility from every angle,” he says. Accessibility begins when a patron drives up to a facility. A project must be viewed as a total experience from parking, transport into the facility and access throughout the venue, including concourses, seating, concessions, restrooms and all other aspects.”

Bredar notes that state requirements for the disabled must be overlayed with the ADA guidelines. This requires a design team that thoroughly understands all federal, state and local accessibility requirements.

“All aspects of a facility — signage, accommodations for the hearing impaired, lighting and seating — virtually everything that a fan comes into contact with, has an implication for accessibility,” Bredar says.“This is why we strongly advocate to our clients that they involve local constituents from the disabled community in a project from the initial planning stage. Their participation helps to ensure that the needs and goals of the local community are addressed.”

Project Type Impacts Design

The type of sports facility that is being constructed strongly impacts the extent to which accessibility issues must be addressed, according to Don Dethlefs, AIA, president of Sink Combs Dethlefs. “Stadiums and arenas are very complex facilities when compared to a natorium or training facility,” he says. “Seating alone is much more complex because you have a variety of seating levels in a stadium or arena in addition to luxury boxes.”

Whether or not the project is new or a renovation also strongly impacts accessibility, according to Dethlefs. “A new facility obviously presents a clean slate to work with when it comes to accessibility,” he says. “It can be very challenging to renovate an existing facility to meet all the accessibility provisions that a team would like. Unfortunately, economics sometimes dictates that compromises must be made. It’s not always possible to find the optimum solution when it comes to accessibility within an older structure.”

Like Bredar, Dethlefs says that college and university personnel and their team members must begin at the beginning of a project when it comes to accessibility, and he also advocates involving constituents from the disabled community in projects.

One Example

The new $103-million Save Mart Center for California State University, Fresno, provides an excellent example of involving the local community and going beyond what is required. Sink Combs Dethlefs designed the arena, which is home to men’s and women’s basketball, hockey, other athletic events, concerts, family shows, and other commercial and academic events.

“The chairperson of the President’s Committee for Disabilities, a campus group, was involved in the project from the very beginning, and we also worked with other representatives of Fresno’s disabled community,” says Debbie Adishian-Astone, executive director of Auxiliary Services and Save Mart Center coordinator. “Our goal was to exceed whenever possible both the ADA guidelines and California’s Title 24 requirements, which are stricter than the ADA in some cases.”

A $500,000 gift from the Fansler Foundation, a local foundation that supports the disabled community, enabled mirrors, sinks, paper towel dispensers and hand dryers to be installed in all handicap bathroom stalls on the main concourse where the majority of seating for the disabled is located. Adishian-Astone says this is more user friendly since everything needed is located inside the stall.

Other provisions for the disabled that meet or exceed requirements include:

• a concierge desk where patrons may access wheelchairs, listening devices and other services;
• elevators in every lobby. These are staffed during events to make sure they are used by the disabled first; and
• disabled seating throughout the bowl and on the floor and at all price points rather than in one or two areas. This includes the arena’s party suites.

“We held an open house specifically for the disabled during our opening events,” says Adishian-Astone. “This provided an opportunity to acquaint them with all the features within the center. The concerns expressed since our opening have been minimal, and we are committed to continually evaluating our provisions for the disabled.”