BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – CBS 42’s Your Voice Your Station heard concerns from Bobby J. Pierson in July, who brought to our attention the absence of handrails at Legion Field.
Through our investigation, we learned that Legion Field does not fully comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act by lacking handrails where there are stairs. Turns out, it’s not the only stadium in Alabama missing them.
With the Iron Bowl about a week away, we take our investigation there to see where Alabama and Auburn stack up.
The ADA says 25% of Americans have a significant disability that impacts one or more major life activities. Add to that an aging population, one accident or turning another year older, and before you know it, you could end up being the next person needing something to hold on to climb the stairs at the Iron Bowl.
Getting to your seats could be a problem in Tuscaloosa or Auburn, and it’s something Pierson understands.
“The problem that’s going on at these stadiums is not just a problem for handicapped individuals,” Pierson said. “Going up those bleachers, you have to hope that an individual – you can lean on their shoulder, and you can go up. If you were to make a slip, God bless you. That’s all I can say.”
This is something we witnessed on camera this season as a woman caught herself from falling to get out of her section at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Barry Whaley is the Project Director of the Southeast ADA Center, where you can ask for information, training and guidance on the ADA.
“Sooner or later we’re all going to need that handrail,” Whaley said. “The standards are pretty clear that any interior or exterior stairs that are a means of egress have to be accessible and have to have handrails.”
Jordan-Hare Stadium opened in 1939, and Bryant-Denny Stadium opened 10 years before that. Both got renovations and upgrades as recently as this football season. Whaley said just because they’re older they are not excluded from needing handrails.
“There is no such thing as being grandfathered in,” Whaley said. “They do have requirements under the law to be fully accessible. They could very well be sued under enforcement of the ADA for not being in compliance with the 2010 Standards.”
Because both stadiums have made alterations, Whaley said they must follow the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design.
“That building or that structure is in compliance until the time that there’s an alteration made to elements,” Whaley said. “Once the alterations begin or a renovation begins, then the 2010 Standards become the standards you follow for accessibility.”
Both schools have sections of their websites dedicated to accessibility, as Auburn University Athletics says it is committed to providing complete accessibility.
“Auburn University recognizes the needs of persons with disabilities, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, and continues to make every effort to accommodate individuals consistent with both ADA and State of Alabama accessibility mandates,” according to its website.
The website goes on to say that if you need accessible seating, you can contact the ticket office or must-watch for special accessible seating options when ordering online. It says ADA seating is generally available in sections 17, 18, 33, 35, 37 and 44.
Meanwhile, according to Bryant-Denny Stadium’s website, accessible seating is in the Lower East Sideline (Section ADA-E), Upper North End Zone (Sections NN-1 – NN-14), and Upper South End Zone (Sections SS-1 – SS-14). The school says it is willing to exchange seats at the Northwest Will Call by Gate 4 and East Will Call by Gate 44, four hours before the game, but seats are not guaranteed.
Pierson said he will see it through that Alabama stadiums get handrails installed.
“I want to make a change every chance I get, I want to keep this in the media,” Pierson said. “There must be something done about this.”
Alabama played at Kroger Field last week, where the Wildcats’ stadium has handrails installed. The SEC tells CBS 42 that it is the responsibility of each institution to adhere to policies established by the ADA.
“That’s a major lawsuit and the money that the city or these other stadiums may have to pay out for that settlement, all they have to do is come in and put rails in and that problem will be handled,” Pierson said.
In a follow-up interview from our report in July, we learned from Birmingham Park and Recreation that it did look into a full handrail installation in 2019 at Legion Field, which was roughly $750,000. The plans were put on hold due to lack of funding.
In 2020, Bryant-Denny Stadium had a major overhaul of renovations totaling $107 million. Handrails were not added to all the stairways.
After our attempts for an interview from Alabama and Auburn, we did get a response from both schools.
A spokesperson from Auburn said it has handrails in the east and west upper decks and at all vomitories leading to seating areas. You can also get assistance to your seats by sending a text to 334-591-HELP (4357).
Additionally, there are shuttles and ADA parking to accommodate. You can find two guest services booths on the concourse at Gate 2 and Gate 14 for stroller check-in, sensory bags and stadium information. Here, you can also sign out sensory bags with headphones and tactile items to lessen the sensory overload at games.
The spokesperson told CBS 42 that Auburn Athletics is committed to making Jordan-Hare Stadium a sensory-inclusive location and that many staff members have gone through the training to help provide the most accessible gameday experience for fans.
A spokesperson from Alabama sent us the following statement:
“The lower bowl of Bryant-Denny Stadium was constructed prior to the 1970s. The ADA Standards, as you referenced, were updated in 2010. Since the lower bowl predates those Standards, it is not subject to those requirements, including the placement of handrails. There is, however, ample ADA seating dispersed throughout the newer areas of the stadium, including an entire deck spanning the east side. There are also several other offerings on game days including public elevators, ADA restrooms, ADA seat ticket swaps (as inventory allows), and shuttles from parking. For additional information, please visit the ADA and Family Services webpage and the Parking – UA Gameday webpage.”Jessica L. Paré | Deputy Director of Athletics, External Operations