The Georgia Dome remains inaccessible Buying the Backs of Gentlemen
by Zen Garcia
Zen Garcia is Georgia disability activist recently honored by New Mobility magazine for his ADAPT activism for people living in nursing homes.
December 27, 1998--The Atlanta Falcons were 13 and two going into the last game of the season against playoff contender Miami Dolphins. Everybody was excited--caught up in the thrill of the moment.
I'd bought the tickets as Christmas gifts, excited to be at the newly-constructed Georgia Dome with my friends. When we arrived at our seats, it was clear what my problem was: No consideration had been given to the fact that during most of the game, everybody that can is standing up, shouting and yelling. Though we were at the top of the first level, I could see that when the crowd piled in, I would not be able to see over them.
Construction of a new multi-million dollar stadium--built for the 1994 Superbowl--had overlooked the fact that 1) people in wheelchairs cannot stand up to peer over crowds and 2) like most fans, we come with more than one person. It was ridiculous: not only could I not see, but because huge stone columns separated the accessible seating, just two persons were allowed to a section. My father was forced to stand for the whole game, just in order to be with us.
I'd paid my $33 dollars (and $25 parking) to see the Falcons play. What I'd purchased was a view of the backs of oversized gentlemen, who themselves had to stand to see over crowds.
It wasn't fair of me to ask them to sit, either--then they couldn't see!
So I watched the game through the cracks between heads or backsides, trying to catch a glimpse of play. Sometimes, when the crowd mellowed and sat down, I was able to see. But It would've been nice to experience the whole game with bird's-eye direct viewing, like the non-disabled fans got--instead of having to watch on monitors draped from the ceilings--monitors smaller than the set at my house. I would have had better seating and viewing from the comfort of my own living room.
Who designed and approved the construction of this auditorium? I wondered. One would have thought that at some point in the construction, somebody would've said, "Hey, wait a second! This isn't going to work for people seated in wheelchairs! We need to elevate them above the crowd so that they can view without obstruction--so they can share an equal experience."
I saw others fans in wheelchairs in the hallways, looking at monitors just like me--because there was no room for proper viewing. Yeah, we were there, we were part of it--but we couldn't witness the actual event--which was the whole reason we came to begin with.
For this newly constructed multi-million dollar facility, designed to make billion-dollar profit, to discriminate against us--there is no reason for that.
'They got us anyway'
An e-mail to Garcia from an Atlanta activist:
Zen, don't think the advocates you know and love in Atlanta were hiding out under a rock while the Dome was being planned and built! About 15 of us were on a commission called the Commission on Disability Affairs for the 1996 Olympics, and the Dome was part of that project.
We even had the U.S. Dept. of Justice down here! One of their attorneys stayed for about three months to try to ensure the Dome would be built right.
We were knowledgeable, we were assertive. We reiterated and reiterated, and then did it some more. We met with the head of everything we could think of, we walked the building with all the suits, we argued. We got mad and madder. We contacted the media. Stories were written and broadcast. We marched, we occupied their headquarters until we were granted an audience.
We fought the "line of sight" issue. At the time I said, "I got a 42" tv in my bedroom. I could lay in bed and look at the games on TV. Why the h#%$ would I want to come here if I can't see?"
We were led to believe the plans had been changed. We had an oversight commitee follow up. But they got us anyway.
Please continue the fight. Take it to court. Have them rebuild the damn thing. I'm too old and too tired.
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