Access improves for disabled

AN EASIER GAME

April 06, 1992|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Staff Writer

Donnie Wayson couldn't get over it.

"This doesn't even compare to Memorial Stadium," he said yesterday, soaking up the sun in the left field seats as the Orioles practiced at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Mr. Wayson wasn't talking about the flavor of hot dogs or the price of tickets. He was talking about accessibility for people with disabilities.

"They've done a great job, from my standpoint," he said of the stadium designers and builders. Mr. Wayson's standpoint is from a wheelchair. He was paralyzed from the neck down in a car wreck 11 years ago.

He is 35 and lives in Baltimore. He was a city police officer, off-duty, when the accident happened. He still works for the department as an analyst in the data-processing division.

Other disabled people shared his opinion yesterday about the Orioles' new ballpark, including Jim Brady, the former White House press secretary who was shot in the head during the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

Mr. Brady came to yesterday's open workout to pay tribute to the Orioles, the Maryland Stadium Authority and Gov. William Donald Schaefer for making Oriole Park at Camden Yards so accessible. Fred Fuller, who does public relations for the National Organization on Disability, said the stadium is the most accessible of any major-league park in the country.

The NOD is a Washington-based organization that, in the words of its communications director, Mark Lewis, "is set up to do one thing: expand the participation and acceptance of disabled people in all aspects of American life."

Mr. Brady is vice chairman of the group. At a ceremony in front of the Orioles' dugout before the team's practice, he read from a prepared speech into a microphone:

"This is a place that's friendly to me and to so many of my friends who are fans with disabilities. This ballpark welcomes us."

Later, as he watched the workout from a seat in the stadium, he described the stadium again and again as "remarkable, remarkable. . . . Everything I've seen is first-class, up-to-date."

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect is the 448 seats that swing to the side, allowing room for a wheelchair. Rick Vaughn, the Orioles' public relations director, said the one-of-a-kind seats were designed especially for the stadium.

They allow able-bodied people to sit comfortably next to their companions in wheelchairs. That may not seem remarkable to many people, but to people with disabilities and their loved ones it is a godsend.

At Memorial Stadium, people in wheelchairs sat together in designated areas. Their companions had to squeeze in next to them in cold, stiff folding chairs, or sit completely behind them.

Diane Ebberts, director of the Governor's Office for Individuals with Disabilities, said Mr. Schaefer and Oriole officials agreed from the beginning that the new park would be totally accessible.

It is even more accessible, she said, than required by the Americans With Disabilities Act, which President Bush signed into law in 1990.

Ms. Ebberts named some of the features that make Oriole Park at Camden Yards so accessible: swing-away seats scattered throughout the stadium; low concession stands, ticket windows and telephones accessible to people in wheelchairs; five elevators; gradual-incline ramps; wide corridors, and accessible bathrooms.

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