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New arena to be disability friendly

  • September 27, 2008
  • Bruce Bromley

EVANSVILLE — Disabled patrons of the Downtown arena will be able to go through a main entrance there with everyone else, buy a seat for anywhere in the range of prices offered and sit next to friends and family.

On Friday, architects and managers working on the project told the local Advisory Board on Disability Services of efforts made to ensure anyone can move about the new venue and take advantage of the various amenities inside. Gregory S. Fehribach, an Indianapolis attorney providing design advice on the project, said the Downtown arena will exceed the requirements of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

Rather than merely meeting rules, the project is meant to give everyone the same opportunities, such as the ability to sit nearly anywhere in the house. Chris Minter, of the architectural firm Populous, said the disabled will be able to buy tickets for the most expensive seats.

“And if you want to spend your dollars on a lesser ticket amount, you will have that opportunity as well,” he said.

Populous, the firm hired to design the arena, has drawn up plans ensuring the five levels of the arena each contains places for those in wheelchairs. Minter said the Americans with Disabilities Act requires venues to set aside 1 percent of its total seats for such patrons.

The project design exceeds that requirement, he said. For instance, the interior of the arena will be configured to contain 9,400 seats during hockey games. About 120 of those will be a type that can be removed to allow a patron in a wheelchair to occupy the same space.

Such seats will be in the clubhouse, suites and upper bowl, as well as on the level attached to the arena’s main concourse. They will be built in a way allowing patrons to see over someone in front of them.

“Even if the person is standing up, you can see over his head,” Minter said.

Minter also noted that the arena’s main entrance will be free of most barriers. The lobby will be at the same level as the sidewalk, eliminating the need for stairs or ramps.

A number of elevators inside will take disabled patrons to the venue’s different floors.

Other features include family toilets, which are open to both sexes and give greater privacy to someone who is trying to help a child or disabled person. Minter said there will be five such restrooms on the main concourse and four on the upper bowl.

Patti Davidson, a member of the Advisory Board on Disability Services, praised the designers for including the family toilets. She has a son who suffers from autism and other conditions and requires assistance when going to the restroom.

“The family bathrooms provide a space for me to take him,” Davidson said. “And we don’t disturb anybody else, and I can give him the help he needs.”

For the hard-of-hearing, certain seats will have headsets used to amplify sounds. The scoreboards inside will display high-resolution images, making them easier to see.

John J. Kish, hired by the city to manage the arena project, said an important question remains: Where will the disabled park? He said there are several ideas of what would make the best location.

“We are trying to get it as close as possible,” he said.