She loves Wrigley Field, but she sure wishes it was easier to navigate in her wheelchair

October 8, 2015 • Posted in baseball, Blogroll, Uncategorized by

The Cubs win over the Pittsburgh Pirates last night means they’ll be in Chicago Monday to play the St. Louis Cardinals, but a fan who uses a wheelchair says she isn’t going to bother trying to see the game at Wrigley Field – it’s inaccessible for her.

A jumbotron in left field was part of renovations at Wrigley.

A jumbotron in left field was part of renovations at Wrigley.

Lifelong Cubs fan Marla Donato started using a wheelchair two years ago after undergoing multiple surgeries to repair a shattered leg and ankle. “Even if the Cubs’ season continues, I won’t be angling to go to more games,” Donato writes in a post on the CityLab blog called I Love Wrigley Field, But as a Wheelchair User, I Sure Wish It Was Easier to Navigate. “It’s too hard to navigate the ballpark in a wheelchair.”

In her post, Donato said she’s been root, root, rooting for the Cubbies at Wrigley Field her entire life, and she figured it’d be no big deal going there in a wheelchair. “After all, this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” she reasoned. “We’ve come a long way with accessibility issues.”

Here at the Safe & Sound blog I’ve been publishing a lot of posts lately about the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Saturday morning I’m taking a special tour of downtown Chicago for people who are blind that the Chicago Architecture Foundation put together to celebrate the anniversary, and I’ll head right from there to the first-ever touch tour put on by the Goodman Theatre — I’ll see (well, I’ll hear!) the production of Disgraced after I tour the stage. We’ve come a long way in terms of accessibility, but 25 years later, many public spaces remain inaccessible or inhospitable to people with disabilities.

In her post, Donato wrote about the $575 million budget Cub owners have to update Cubs Park and the surrounding area — she assumed upgrading accessibility would be high on their to-do list. “But instead of, say, getting the elevators running by even halfway through the season, the ballpark’s brass concentrated on installing big Jumbotrons and an ear-splitting audio system by opening day.”

The game Donato attended at Wrigley over the summer was her first “fun” outing after doctors had to re-break her heel during a recent surgery. Some of the challenging issues she encountered during that fun day:

  • Inaccessible bathrooms. She couldn’t brace herself to stand up on her own in a stall, so a stranger helped pull her pants up and down.
  • Elevators out of service. A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice (which oversees compliance with the Americans with Disabilities act) pointed her towards regulations that stipulate that elevator repairs “must be made as quickly as possible.” The regulations do not specify how quick “quickly” has to be, and they say ramps are okay in the meantime.
  • Ramps are steep. Some “historic properties” are held to different standards when it comes to things like the steepness of ramps. Donato’s husband and a “young, strong usher” struggled together and finally managed to push her up the long series of steep ramps at Wrigley.

Once in their assigned area, Donato’s wheelchair was placed along with others behind the last row of seats at the very top of the Terrace. “Were we all actually expected to sit completely in the main aisle and become an obstacle course for drunken fans on hotdog and beer runs?” she asks in her blog post. “Wasn’t that a fire code hazard? An emergency exit violation?”

Cubs spokesman Julian Green told Donato later that her assigned seating was perfectly legal, that sitting completely out in a main aisle without any protective barrier satisfies ADA regulations as long as the aisle is considered wide enough.

Donato’s post goes on to spell out countless other problems she encountered at the game this past summer, and how she learned that when it comes to making accommodations for people with mobility impairments there are a lot of gray areas — even after the passage of the Americans with disabilities Act. From her post:

It tends to be easier to get around newer parks, built after 1993, which are held to different standards. And there are some allowances for “alternative standards,” such as the steepness of ramps for “historic properties.” Those are ones “eligible for listing in the National Register or Historic Places, or properties designated as historic under State or local law.”

If any of you blog readers know how Fenway Park in Boston dealt with these sorts of issues, or if you have stadium stories of your own to tell, please leave them here in the comments.

In the end, Donato and her husband left the game early – they wanted to avoid navigating her wheelchair through the crush of fellow Cub fans on the steep ramps towards the exits. “We missed the Cubs’ ninth inning fall from grace and then the team’s tenth inning game-winning home run,” she writes. “Now I’ve added stadiums to my list of fun things I took for granted before I had to navigate them this way.”

Sheila Kelly Welch On October 8, 2015 at 9:53 am

Developing a disability certainly changes one’s perspective on the environment. Things that we used to do easily, with not a thought, become difficult or impossible. It’s discouraging to be in such a position, but it’s made even worse when some of the obstacles in our lives could and should be removed but are still there. Like Donato, I have physical problems that are making it hard for me to walk. I’m dreading the day when a wheelchair will be my only way to move around. Thanks to Donato and Beth for getting the word out about this issue.

bethfinke On October 8, 2015 at 9:26 pm

Thanks for your affirmation, Sheila. I didn’t want people to think I was a killjoy about the Cubs, it’s just important for folks to understand how the ADA works –and how, sometimes, it doesn’t.


Sheila A. Donovan On October 8, 2015 at 11:18 am

Cubs will be real winners when they address this issue.

Deborah Darsie On October 20, 2015 at 10:05 pm

What a shame they can’t keep the elevators functioning. I am so disappointed for Ms. Donato.

Oddly, in my twisted imagination I see a team of 4 Bernese Mountain Dogs or small horses getting hitched up and pulling her in state up all the ramps in style.
I know that runs counter to the wishes of a lot of wheelchair users – not wanting to attract attention to themselves…but it just won’t leave my mind!

bethfinke On October 20, 2015 at 10:10 pm

Might make for a great children’s book. Just sayin’…!


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