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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

COMERICA PARK: Excellent Wheelchair Access at the home of the Detroit Tigers



COMERICA PARK: Excellent Wheelchair
Access at the home of the Detroit Tigers


By Steve Wright

With sweeping vistas of the downtown skyline, pitching-friendly dimensions on the field and whimsical touches off the diamond, Comerica Park gets rave reviews.

The home of the Detroit Tigers also gets high praise from the disability community for its universal design and outstanding access.

Randy Hebestreit, one of the architects who worked on Comerica and the point man for the $300 million ballpark’s ADA compliance, said the key to building a barrier-free ballyard is meeting with local disability advocates during the design phase, before the facility was built.

Hebestreit, vice president of the Smith Group, the Detroit-based firm that worked with other architecture groups on the 40,000-seat stadium, said a team composed of Detroit’s Great Lakes Independent Living Center, the city’s Human Rights department, the Michigan chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America and other advocacy groups gave input on Comerica’s access.

“People have had no problem getting in and getting around in it,’’ Hebestreit said of Comerica’s access. “All concession stands are roll-up height, there are nine family-assist restrooms and the seats can be reached by either ramp, elevator or hydraulic lift. There are 400 accessible seats in the stadium, with accessible seats in all price ranges.”

Comerica features an urban setting and excellent view of the Motor City skyline in addition to outstanding barrier-free access. Companion seating is arranged so able bodied guests can sit directly next to wheelchair-using fans.

Wide, gently-sloped, four-turn ramps near first and third base provide access to lower level accessible seating. Larger, general public ramps provide access to the upper deck, which also can be reached by elevator.

Nine “family assist”, or unisex restrooms are provided for disabled guests who need attendant assistance. These lockable single-seaters are perfect for getting assistance in private from a spouse or opposite sex attendant. The family assist restrooms have grab bars, a raised commode and sink with clearance to roll under.

Leslie Thomas, the Americans with Disabilities Act technical assistant for the Great Lakes Independent Living center, said he has heard nothing but praise for Comerica Park.
“I think it’s a great facility; very accessible,” he said. “A few things struck me a little different – the accessible stalls in the regular restrooms plus the family assist units all around and the accessible seating is dispersed all over the place -- even the suites have accessible seating in the suite and outside them.”

“There’s not that one huge corral of people in wheelchairs,” Thomas added, saying he hates it when older facilities group all the accessible seating in one area, usually jammed in right off the concourse.

“People get treated fairly and equally. The counters are all roll-up height and that works for everybody – able bodied and disabled,” he said.

Thomas said the only thing he would like to see added is a golf-cart like vehicle to provide transportation within the park. He thinks Comerica could break ground by providing “some sort of vehicle” that would accommodate families and people who use wheelchairs or crutches. He said the vehicle could offer transport within the stadium and perhaps off-site to accessible parking lots.

Overall, Thomas is a huge fan of Comerica’s aesthetics and access.

“I so much enjoy being downtown and watching the skyscrapers,” he said. “The view from the accessible seats – whether down on the field or up in the nose bleed – is great. I’d give them an “A.””

Beyond the seating areas, family attractions such as a Ferris wheel and carousel are also barrier-free.

The Fly Ball Ferris Wheel, a 50-foot-tall confection, is wheelchair-accessible for those able to transfer to a seat. A ramp leads up to the boarding area, where riders get in baseball-shaped bucket cars for a panoramic view of the playing field and surrounding city.

The Big Cat Carousel is totally accessible. There is a ramp that provides access up to the old fashioned merry-go-round. Riders can transfer from their wheelchairs, or roll up a ramp and lock down in a chariot-like seat that is marked accessible. Heidi rolled up in her chair for a whimsical ride on the Big Cat, which has Tigers instead of horses on its wheel.

The only negative at Comerica is the hydraulic lift located near home plate. These devices tend to be noisy, difficult to maintain and limiting because wheelchair users have to wait for an attendant to operate the devices with a key.

However, the lift is merely an option, as wide, gently-sloped ramps provide access to the same areas reached by the lift.

Michael Harris, the government relations coordinator for the Michigan chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America, also served on the committee of disability activists who advised Comerica’s architects during the ballpark’s design.

Harris, who uses a wheelchair for mobility because of a spinal cord injury, said the key to Comerica’s barrier-free success was the team’s and architects’ willingness to meet before construction began.

“All the PVA chapters have met to talk about all these new stadiums and arenas. The thing that comes out is that if you don’t meet before it’s built, there will be lots of problems. It dawned on me that we were going to go through the same process in Detroit if we didn’t meet during the design phase,” he said.

Harris said he has been most impressed with clean sight lines from accessible seats, the dispersal of accessible seats in all price ranges and the abundance of unisex restrooms.

“We brought to the table our daily experience,” he said. “The objectives we wanted were achieved. The architects deserve a lot of credit because they looked at the committee not as a threat, but as an asset."

Comerica’s assets include automatic door openers that are provided at enclosed spaces such as the team shop and beer hall. All these spots feature wide aisles for wheelchair maneuvering.

The main concourse also features a Walk of Fame which takes fans on a tour of baseball and lifestyle history. The concourse is divided into different eras from the 20th century. Colorful Decade Monuments covering two decades each are placed throughout the concourse, towering from floor to ceiling and featuring artifacts from appropriate eras.

An area just past centerfield features huge, bronze statues of Tiger Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Hal Newhouser and Al Kaline. The exterior of the park at 2100 Woodward Ave. is lined with huge, whimsical Tigers – some holding baseballs in their mouths.

Accessibility is emphasized and explained in the free Comerica “A to Z” guides distributed at the ballpark, proving that Tiger management is serious about serving the disability community. The stadium fan guide makes it clear that assistance dogs are welcome and that ushers are trained that such canines are legally permitted.

http://detroit.tigers.mlb.com

Wright, a writer, consultant and Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist, writes about accessible travel, leisure and urban issues dozens of major magazines and newspapers.

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