Advocating for Change Takes Time
The Bison Sports Arena, built in 1970, was the home of intramural activities, physical education, and varsity athletics until the end of the 2014 season. Extensive remodeling was done and it reopened during the 2016-17 season renamed Sanford Health Athletic Complex (SHAC).
The SHAC was nearing completion in December 2016 when Keith and Sherry Bjornson and Jerry Christiansen visited there. They noticed that the wheelchair spaces were all in the nosebleed sections and went up to see what the view was like from up there. Keith pulled into one of the wheelchair spaces and Jerry went to the top row of bleachers in front of him. When Jerry stood up, they determined that during an exciting time of a game when everyone stood up, a person in the wheelchair could not see the game. A person sitting in a wheelchair would only see the backs of the fans in front of them.
Keith, Sherry, Jerry and Nate Aalgaard met with the architect in charge of the project in January of 2017 to talk about the issues they saw at the SHAC. The primary focus was the accessible seating, because the main reason to go there is to watch a ball game. When Keith, Sherry and Jerry visited again in February of 2017, nothing had changed. Later that spring Keith filed a complaint with Tara Iversen at Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ opened an investigation and about three years later, this headline appeared in the Thursday, January 30, 2020 edition of the Forum: “NDSU ARENA BROKE DISABILITY LAWS’
The story in the Forum focused on non-compliant accessible seating at the SHAC. Accessible seating includes wheelchair spaces with companion seats, the line-of-sight for those spaces, accessible aisle seating and the dispersion of the accessible seating. Other non-complaint features found include: inadequate number of accessible parking spaces, some non-accessible signs inside the building, lack of accessibility at concession stands, drinking fountains requiring too much force to operate, some features in restrooms, one ramp inside the building that is too steep, and the lack of active listening devices.
NDSU and the SHAC agreed to have all these items brought into compliance by December 31, 2020. The non-compliant features at the SHAC were first addressed in 2017. An investigation by the DOJ and the resulting agreement was finalized three years later in January 2020. By December 2020, about four years after the first visit, the issues are supposed to be corrected. This shows that advocacy often takes time.
This happening 30 years after the ADA was signed into law is very frustrating. Every requirement in the ADA is in the International Building Code’s accessibility section. There are designated entities that should be making certain that all projects meet the building code: The architectural companies, engineering companies, contractors, and building inspectors. The public depends on them to be certain that all aspects of a project, including accessibility, meet the code.
What can individuals do when they see items they believe are not ADA complaint?
First, check the codes to learn if the items are complaint or not. Freedom Resource Center will go with individuals to a site to determine if features are ADA compliant or not. If non-compliant features are found, the individuals can talk to the business and/or building owner about the issues. If no changes are made, a complaint can be filed with the DOJ.