Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill (our alma mater), has announced that they're hiring a firm to look at ideas to improve the athletic facilities across campus. We've attended numerous athletic events at Northwestern, including football, lacrosse, basketball, softball, and volleyball. Here are some of our suggestions on how to make the venues, specifically Welsh-Ryan arena where the basketball games are played, more friendly for customers who use wheelchairs.
When you wheel/walk into the arena, the first thing you need to do is get over the hard plastic speed bump covering TV cables. This obstacle has a pretty steep incline, so it's difficult to get over if you're a manual or power wheelchair user. Dan has to pop a wheelie to get his front wheels over it and Chris has to line up perfectly or he gets stuck on it and has to be helped off of it.
Once inside, you have a tiny elevator, usually filled with able-bodied people, that moves at a snail's pace. It's unclear which level you should go to, One, M, or B? Your tickets don't tell you, the elevator doesn't tell you, and out of state fans think you're dumb because your school can't just use numbers. Add to that the lack of signs that direct you to the elevator, and we're lucky we've been there before, because otherwise we might not find our way in until halftime.
Our view from the handicap "section" at Welsh-Ryan.
Finally, once you're out of the elevator of doom, there are zero signs that direct you to handicapped seating, your section number actually refers to the bleachers, and you hover in the doorway waiting for the event staff to come help you. There are no marked seat numbers for wheelchair users, so usually you have to chase people out of your section, which to be fair, is just an area in front of the railing, so how would they know? You finally find your seats, and look to the court, and a beautiful set of green bars are directly in front of you. For a taller wheelchair user like Chris, you have to look above or below the top bar because it's in your line of vision. For a shorter wheelchair user like Dan, you have to lean down and watch the entire game from in between two of the bars like a prisoner. We'd look up to see what happens on the Jumbotron, but Northwestern is one of those great schools that doesn't have a video screen on it's giant, 90s style scoreboard.
When and if Northwestern does decide to upgrade its facilities, we'd like to see a clearly marked handicapped area with designated seats. We'd love for no visible obstructions to our line of vision, because let's be honest, NU needs all the basketball fans it can get. You'd get us there a lot more if we could see the court and sit somewhere nice like everybody else. While you're thinking on it, we'd like to put in a request for a new head coach too. May we suggest ABC (Anyone But Carmody)?
After a hiatus from blogging due to our busy non-blogging lives, we're back to blogging and back on blogger. We appreciate the opportunities and experiences we got with ChicagoNow, but are ready to come back to our own blog. We've also started writing twice a month for Yahoo!'s Accessibility Blog, which has a lot of diverse entries. We hope you'll continue to read with us, and offer ideas, questions, or comments on our thoughts. We've enjoyed blogging so far, and hope to continue to do it for many years to come!