Several years ago, the Cubs were sued by a fan who uses a wheelchair for mobility. The complaint, which you can read here, alleged that the Cubs didn’t have enough accessible seating and that in some areas, they had reduced the amount of accessible seating for various group areas.
The conclusion reached in that lawsuit, in 2019, was as follows:
For the aforementioned reasons, defendant’s motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, to stay is granted in part and denied in part. As for Cerda’s ADA claims, he may proceed with his challenge to the number of Accessible Seats and horizontal dispersion for Accessible Seats at Wrigley Field; he may not proceed with his challenge to Accessible Seating in club/luxury box locations or vertical dispersion.
This week, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago filed suit against the Cubs for some violations that appear to be related to the previous lawsuit. As reported by Jason Meisner, Robert Channick and Paul Sullivan in the Tribune, the gist of the suit is:
The lawsuit alleged that the extensive rebuild of the bleachers and lower grandstand, which was dubbed the “1060 Project,” failed to provide wheelchair users with adequate sightlines, as compared with standing patrons. In the lower grandstand, the suit says, “a wheelchair user can barely see any of the infield when spectators stand up — often during the most exciting parts of the game.”
In general admission areas, wheelchair seating is largely clustered in the last row of seating sections, according to the suit. The Cubs also failed to incorporate wheelchair seating into new premium clubs and group seating areas, such as the Catalina Club in the upper deck and the Budweiser Patio in right field, and the overall design failed to remove architectural barriers to access in unaltered portions of the ballpark, according to the suit.
First, I’m going to tell you that I have some personal experience with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) seating. Many of you have met my partner, Miriam, who sits with me in the bleachers. She is mobility-impaired and uses a wheelchair when we’re out. She can walk, but not very far, and is able to handle getting to our seats in the bleachers. But when we go to other ballparks, we sit in accessible seating because of the wheelchair — she can navigate the bleachers, but regular seating in other ballparks is impossible. Over the last several years, we have attended games seated in ADA sections on the South Side of Chicago and in Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Seattle, San Francisco, Phoenix, St. Louis and Los Angeles. In all these ballparks, accessible seating in the lower deck is located in the same place it is in Wrigley Field — behind the last row of seats. In some parks this is 40 or more rows from the field.
In fact, we sat in accessible seating at Wrigley on Opening Day 2021, when the bleachers were reserved for healthcare workers, for the same reason noted above. Specifically, our seats that day were in section 103, row 13, which is here (in the photo, above section 104):
The section of the Tribune article that states, from the suit:
“a wheelchair user can barely see any of the infield when spectators stand up — often during the most exciting parts of the game.”
This is not true. Miriam and I had no problems seeing the infield when seated in that section during the game we sat in ADA seating at Wrigley, April 1, 2021.
Before Thursday’s game, I walked all around the lower deck of Wrigley Field and took the following photos of every ADA section:
All of these ADA seating areas are raised significantly above the row in front of them. It shouldn’t be difficult for anyone seated to see the action. Granted, there are times when people might be standing for a short period of time. Even in other ballparks where ADA seating is raised above the level of the row in front, this can be an issue — for a moment or two, not for the entire game.
In the ADA sections that are behind the 200 level (Terrace) seating, there are occasionally obstructions from posts — but this is also the case for many seats in the Terrace area. I didn’t have any trouble seeing the entire field from those ADA areas. You can’t see the video boards or center-field scoreboard — but then, you can’t see them from about the last six or seven rows of most of the 200 level, either.
Here are the number of seats in each of the ADA sections in the lower deck. I have grouped them, because as you can see in the photos, that’s how these sections are grouped in the ballpark.
That’s 279 accessible seats in the lower deck. Per this ada.gov link, that’s more than sufficient for Wrigley Field (emphasis added):
Wheelchair accessible seating is required. At least one percent of the seating must be wheelchair seating locations. Each wheelchair seating location is an open, level space that accommodates one person using a wheelchair and has a smooth, stable, and slip-resistant surface.
Accessible seating must be an integral part of the seating plan so that people using wheelchairs are not isolated from other spectators or their friends or family.
A companion seat must be provided next to each wheelchair seating location. The companion seat is a conventional seat that accommodates a friend or companion.
There are about 22,000 seats in Wrigley Field’s lower deck. Thus, 279 accessible seats more than satisfies that requirement.
One of the photos above shows the accessible area in the bleachers, which is located above the bleacher suite/batter’s eye in center field. This seats about 50 people, which is around one percent of bleacher capacity. This area has been problematic for some wheelchair users in the bleachers, because a number of years ago umpires requested that glass be placed over what had been an open area. This was supposedly because players said they were “distracted” by fans sitting there — I find that difficult to believe with the very small number of people sitting there. While that area can accommodate around 50 people, most days there were far fewer in that area.
The Tribune article quoted Cubs spokesman Julian Green:
Cubs spokesman Julian Green said in an emailed statement the team had been cooperating with the federal probe and was “disappointed” with the Justice Department’s decision to sue.
“(We) hope the matter can be resolved amicably, but we will defend Wrigley Field and our position it meets accessibility requirements for fans,” the statement read. “The renovation of Wrigley Field greatly increased accessibility of the ballpark and was completed in accordance with applicable law and historic preservation standards consistent with the ballpark’s designation as a National and City of Chicago landmark.”
In response to the federal inquiry, Green said, the Cubs have “made several offers to voluntarily further enhance accessible features of the ballpark, including seating, restrooms, concessions and other key accessibility elements.”
My overview of Wrigley Field Thursday along with my personal experience with ADA seating at Wrigley and other ballparks leads me to believe that Julian Green is correct, that Wrigley Field does meet ADA standards. In addition to the accessible seating, 11 elevators were installed at the ballpark during the 1060 Project to help people with mobility issues get around.
You can read part of the current complaint here:
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago sued the Chicago @Cubs and Wrigley Field this morning, claiming recent renovations to the century-old baseball stadium don't meet accessibility standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Full story soon @CourthouseNews pic.twitter.com/lh5ukefiMZ— Dave Byrnes (@djbyrnes1) July 14, 2022
In the portion of the lawsuit noted in that tweet, I am not sure what they mean by “general admission” areas. The areas in which ADA seating is located behind the 100 level and 200 level are all specifically ticketed, with seat and section numbers, including the ADA rows. This could just be an issue of terminology, though.
In the end, it isn’t easy to retrofit a 100-year-old building, no matter what sort of building, to meet modern ADA requirements. I believe the Cubs have gone out of their way to make Wrigley Field accessible to those who need that kind of seating, and I hope they win this lawsuit.