Priya Johnston’s first visit to Mizzou Arena is one she won’t soon forget.
Johnston, who uses a wheelchair, went to the Jan. 28 women’s basketball game between Missouri and Colorado with a group of teenagers she was supervising. When she went to take her seat, however, she found that she couldn’t reach the assigned section in her wheelchair.
“The section for the wheelchairs was way up in the bleachers away from everybody,” Johnston said. “There was room by the floor, but they wouldn’t let me sit there.”
Johnston was able to watch the game with her group, but only after the teens carried her to her seat. The experience left her feeling “ostracized,” she said, and frustrated with an arena staff that made no effort to accommodate her. For her, it was a case of “in-your-face discrimination.”
“I consider myself to be a very independent woman,” Johnston said. “I shouldn’t have to depend on other people to carry me in a public building that is supposed to be handicap accessible.”
Built at a cost of $75 million, Mizzou Arena was described by MU Athletics Director Mike Alden when it opened in October 2004 as “the finest on-campus basketball facility in the United States of America.” Yet, while it has greater seating capacity and more luxurious accommodations than the Hearnes Center, fans like Johnston say that Mizzou Arena is not as spectator-friendly for people with disabilities, especially those with mobility impairment. Students who use wheelchairs are not able to access student seating, located behind the basket at the west end of Norm Stewart Court. Thus, the only seating choices for people who use wheelchairs are near the top of the building or courtside.
Lee Henson, the MU Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, said that while most people would jump at a courtside seat, it’s a lousy view for people who are unable to stand up.
“There are some things that might be able to be done to create more choices for wheelchair users at the arena,” Henson said. “I don’t think any of them would require reconfiguring the building.”
Garrett French, an MU junior and member of the Tiger Wheelchair Basketball team, said he feels isolated from his fellow students at basketball games because his seat is so far away.
“I can’t sit with all of the students,” French said. “That’s the biggest thing for me.”
Most of the arena’s seats for people with mobility impairment are on the main concourse and club mezzanine levels. For basketball games, these small balconies with cup-holders mounted on a railing are able to seat 138 people with disabilities; the seating is slightly elevated so that standing fans don’t completely obstruct the view.
Kathy Ungles, a member of Mizzou Arena’s office support staff, said the elevated seats are an improvement.
“When you think about how the Hearnes Center was, this is much improved,” she said.
Other seats for the disabled are available on the arena floor behind the baskets, where the view is often obstructed by standing fans. MU freshman Casey Adams, who uses a wheelchair, said he was given men’s basketball tickets in the student section for the 2006-07 season. When he realized he could not easily get to his seat, the arena staff directed him behind the student section, where his view was blocked whenever the crowd stood and cheered. Adams said he was able to trade his tickets in for seats in a more accessible location.
People with mobility problems that sit in the suites and loge rooms have an easier time at Mizzou Arena. In most cases, the end seat in the top row of the box is removable to accommodate a wheelchair. Bar tables in the suite rooms are too high for wheelchair users, but the counters along the perimeter of the room are the right height.
A particular challenge for people with disabilities is the distance from the parking lot to the front door of the arena. The most accessible parking, at the arena’s south entrance, is reserved for suite and loge occupants. About 80 spots are available to the left of the arena’s main entrance for people with handicapped placards or license plates. French and Henson said that attending bigger games, such as when MU plays Kansas, requires that they arrive two hours before tip-off to avoid traffic and crowds.
While Mizzou Arena may present problems for people with disabilities, Henson said MU has worked hard to improve accessibility.
“I think it is also fair to say and important to point out that MU has generally done an excellent job on accessibility, especially with new buildings, with the Rec Center a prime example,” he said. “We should do the best we can to provide equal access.”
Henson said that one of the few buildings that hasn’t been improved to offer greater access is Mumford Hall, which has no automated doors. Yet, even some of the oldest buildings on campus are accessible, Henson said. Memorial Union now has ramps on three sides of the building. Jesse Hall, a major campus landmark, has only one entrance for people in wheelchairs, under the stairs on the south side of the building. But that’s a factor of the building’s size and layout. “It would be really difficult ramping the entrances of Jesse Hall,” Henson said. “The ramp might have to run all the way to the J school.”
To report complaints or concerns about accessibility, call the campus’ ADA coordinator at 884-7278 or the Campus Facilities Help Desk at 882-8211. For a campus accessibility map, go to ability.missouri.edu/mucats/adamap.asp.