Monday, March 30, 2009

Upgrades to KC Royals stadium makes it more disability friendly

From the Kansas City Star:

The challenge of retrofitting Kauffman Stadium to make it more modern and inviting also included making it conform to a law that didn’t exist when it was first built.

The Kansas City Royals and HOK Sport architects worked closely with a special advisory group to make the new K compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The result for the April 10 home opener will be a far friendlier place for baseball fans who use wheelchairs or who have other special needs:

•There are more than double the number of wheelchair seating spaces than before, even in suites.

•There are more family restrooms.

•Every concession area has counters low enough to accommodate people in wheelchairs.

The $250 million Kauffman overhaul is being paid for with a Jackson County sales tax and a contribution from the Royals. The architectural firm and the team have been working with the advisory committee to make sure the stadium meets or exceeds minimal requirements for disabled people.

“On a lot of things, they have exceeded what is normally required,” said Michele Ohmes, an author and consultant on disability issues and head of the advisory panel.

The team has made modifications since the ADA was enacted in 1990, including adding wheelchair seating spaces during a 1999 face-lift. But the newly configured and expanded stadium had to go much further. Wheelchair seating areas are now available on all levels of the stadium.

That gives disabled patrons a much greater range of choice in location and pricing, including the economy area in left field. Previously, wheelchair seating was primarily available in the lower level. There was some accessibility in the upper deck, but it was very limited, said HOK architect Ed Roether.

Some of the portals between the seating bowl and the concourses have been enlarged to make them easier for wheelchairs to maneuver.

In addition, all the party areas and suites — including that of owner David Glass — are now wheelchair-accessible.

All of that is no small thing.

“Accessible restrooms are easy” to accomplish, Ohmes said. “Text telephones are easy. But wheelchair seating, especially in existing stadiums, is not easy. It’s the most difficult thing you can ask for.”

That’s because creating a platform for wheelchairs takes out regular seats, sometimes including a row in front and behind. Roether said one wheelchair space can consume room for five to 15 fixed seats, depending on the location in the stadium.
The members of the advisory committee include Alphapointe Association for the Blind, United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Kansas City and the Coalition for Independence. The panel includes Gloria Hernandez and her 13-year-old son, Ricky, a huge Royals fan who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.

“The thing I really like is more seats in places where we can sit better and not just in one little area,” said Ricky, who will be watching the home opener from a new perspective behind the Royals dugout.

The committee also is working with the Chiefs on making Arrowhead Stadium more accessible. Stadium development manager Tom Steadman said that when the renovations there are completed next year, the number of wheelchair spaces will more than double to about 350. And they will be on all levels, not just field level. The stadium is adding 12 elevators, for a total of 14. HOK is the architect for both stadiums’ renovations.

A feature at Kauffman that people with disabilities and their caregivers will particularly appreciate is more family restrooms. They will now be on every level and in several sections on each side of the stadium. That means a father with a disabled daughter or a mother with a disabled son will be closer to a place where they can assist in privacy. That can relieve a lot of stress and make the ballgame more enjoyable, said Gloria Hernandez, who did not even realize there were family restrooms before.

In addition to lower concession counters, Kauffman Stadium now has low tables in the food court and bar areas.

Increased video information throughout the stadium, such as the new LED message board ringing the seating bowl, will make it easier for those with hearing impairments to keep up with what’s going on.

Even the “Little K” ball field for youngsters in the new Outfield Plaza at Kauffman Stadium was built to be accessible for those with

Seemingly trivial things can make a big difference. Visually impaired people can have trouble distinguishing where walls and floors meet if they are the same color, so efforts have been made to avoid that.

The committee also advised on other details, from the design of paper towel dispensers in the restrooms (those requiring two hands can be difficult to use for people with disabilities) to the placement of flush handles in toilet stalls (they need to be on the side with more room).

“We spent whole meetings on bathrooms,” said Jean Bailey Smith, director of family support at United Cerebral Palsy.

“But it’s a big issue.”