Walking up and down the stairs at Legion Field, there is nothing to hold on to. This is why Bobby Pierson, a long-time visitor, is concerned someone could get hurt.
The Old Gray Lady holds strong nostalgia for Pierson. He kicked Alabama State University’s game winning field goal in 1979 and won MVP in the Magic City Classic.
“To me, it’s like nothing in the world,” Pierson said. “I love coming here.”
To this day, Pierson returns to Legion Field annually to watch the Magic City Classic. However, he also realizes the dangers that are present in the absence of railings. He said getting to his seats is not as easy as it once was 40 years ago.
“They didn’t have rails then, and they don’t have rails now,” Pierson said. “When I get ready to go up those bleachers, it’s hard, and I have to look down while I’m going up because if not, at my age, I might lose my balance and I could fall. But if I had a rail, I would have something to hold on to.”
The Alabama Building Commission adopted the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design in 2011. Rebecca Williams from the Southeast ADA Center said a stair is defined as a series of structures consisting of a riser and a tread.
“The 2010 Standards apply wherever that particular feature is,” Williams said. “If you have stairs, you have to have a handrail.”
Williams said there are no ADA police who go out and enforce that all of the standards are being met. Instead, she said you must file a complaint through the U.S. Department of Justice.
“There’s no organizations or entities that go around and check to see if a facility is meeting all the 2010 ADA Standards,” Williams said. “The ADA is enforced strictly on a complaint process.”
At the stadium, there is an accessible seating section in the endzone, and railings surround some sections scattered throughout. However, senior trial counsel attorney Larry Canada from the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program said it’s likely not enough and it is not likely the 96-year-old stadium can be grandfathered out of the handrail requirement.
“The fact that they’ve put some of them in would probably indicate that they need to do all of them,” Canada said. “Just doing them for a few rows is probably not making them compliant under Title 2 of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
Canada said that the railings would likely go in the center of the steps and can have gaps and spaces to cross over between sections.
“People with disabilities are entitled to the same rights as everybody else and discriminating against them by denying them access is a violation of their civil rights, which is actionable under federal law,” Canada said.
He said it’s important for Pierson to keep raising awareness of this issue – and so far, he has. Pierson took his concerns to the Birmingham City Council meeting on July 18.
“If you don’t have handrails, it’s just an accident waiting to happen,” Pierson said at the meeting.
He said his prior requests to the Birmingham Park and Recreation Department – who run operations at Legion Field – went unnoticed.
“It’s no bad reflection on the City of Birmingham, I’m just looking out for the wellbeing for those of us who are senior citizens,” Pierson said. “I hope that this will open the eyes of everyone in the City of Birmingham and in the state.”
There’s a plan to budget for railings to cover the entire stadium next budget cycle that could cost upwards of $750,000. Canada said attorney fees from a lawsuit could cost just as much.
Birmingham Park and Recreation proposed a budget of $24,125,270 for fiscal year 2024. Birmingham City Council approved the $554 million budget June 27.
Investigative Reporter Jen Cardone has been working for more than a week to get an interview with Birmingham Park and Recreation Director Shonae Bennett. She was not available before this story aired.
Handrail requirements can be found in the International Building Code in sections 1014 Handrails and 1015. Section 1030 focuses more on assembly areas.
To contact the Southeast ADA Center for guidance on an accessibility issue, call toll free at 1-800-949-4232 or call directly at 404-541-9001.