Stadium lacks accessibility

By Chris Nelson

Huskie Stadium has never been a welcome place for opposing football teams, and in some instances it is not too friendly to the fans either.

Wheelchair users wishing to attend games at the stadium might find the process easier said than done. The stadium is used by both the NIU football team as well as the DeKalb Barbs High School squad.

According to Linda Atherton, faculty member in the educational psychology, counseling and special education department, Huskie Stadium provides a number of challenges to persons who use wheelchairs.

Atherton noted the only wheelchair-accessible section of the stadium lies in the bleachers at the south end of the field.

Ironically, this particular section is closed during DeKalb high school football games held at the stadium, in effect rendering the stadium inaccessible to persons using wheelchairs.

Atherton, whose daughter attends DeKalb High School and uses a wheelchair, said the present situation isolates wheelchair-users from a majority of the stadium crowd.

Officials from DeKalb High School offered to let wheelchair-users remain on the sidelines during the football games. Due to the violent and unpredictable nature of football, the offer was declined. This resulted in wheelchair-using high school students such as Atherton’s daughter to often be left out of one of the rituals of fall.

While the college games have the south end open to seating, the situation still is far from ideal.

“When seated in the south end, (wheelchair) users can’t see the scoreboard,” Atherton said. “Also, the wind generally comes out of the north and smacks people in the section right in the face.”

Atherton added the platforms for the wheelchairs are behind a large number of bleachers. When a big play brings fans to their feet, the view from the platforms is often obstructed.

Atherton cited the difficulties experienced by the father of junior free safety Jason Bart, who also uses a wheelchair, as an example of the problems presented by the nearly 30-year-old structure.

“Jason Bart’s dad comes to every game to see his son play, but the conditions make things difficult,” Atherton said.

Atherton has taken her concerns to the Huskie Athletic Department, which oversees operation of the field. Atherton said she recommended ramps be installed out of the chute to the main bleachers to allow persons in wheelchairs the opportunity to sit among the crowds.

According to Huskie Athletic Director Gerald O’Dell, plans are presently being made to make the facility more accessible to all persons with disabilities.

Becoming accessible is “one of the true focuses” of the upcoming renovation of the stadium. O’Dell said an official announcement of what exactly is to be done to make the stadium more accessible will be made in November.

O’Dell said the facility is “outdated” in a number of aspects, particularly in the area of accessibility to persons with disabilities.

“It (updating the facility’s accessibility) has been a long time coming,” O’Dell said. “I think it’s a necessary action.”