NFL Accommodates but May Not Understand ADA Stadium Accessibility, Survey Says

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NFL guests with disabilities or those who bring disabled people to games have mixed views about stadium accommodations. A majority of those impacted have a positive view about considerations, though nearly half don’t feel like the league understands their needs.

Gaming Today wanted to know how well NFL stadiums were doing at making those accommodations. We asked 1,000 people who have intellectual or physical disabilities (43%) or who bring guests who have intellectual or physical disabilities (57%) how they rate NFL stadium accessibility. Nearly 66% said accessibility at NFL stadiums was good, very good, or excellent.

However, large companies can view the ADA as a checklist to reference to avoid backlash rather than proactively include people with disabilities. Forty-six percent of respondents did not feel that the NFL stadium understood their or their guest’s disabilities. Offering accommodations may satisfy the law, but fans can tell the difference between real attempts at inclusion and box-checking.

“As soon as you say should as opposed to you must, there just tends to be pushback,” said Alison Butler, director of the Division of Disability Rights for the city and county of Denver. “And the ADA is now 33 years old, so things have changed … The ADA didn’t even contemplate websites and those kinds of things.”

The ADA also didn’t anticipate the discussions regarding service animals, quiet rooms, or screen readers’ abilities to read websites. While these technologies existed before the ADA’s passage, implementing these and other accessibility services isn’t consistent:

Disability Understood and Accommodated For37%
Disability Not Understood but Accommodated For32%
Disability Understood but not Accommodated For 17%
Disability Not Understood or Accommodated For 14%

While most respondents were accommodated for, 31% were not accommodated, and only about half of that segment felt their or their guest’s disability was understood. That’s still a large segment of guests who require more accessibility features to enjoy NFL games fully.

Gaming Today's NFL stadium accessibility survey looks at overall experience for patrons.

Common NFL Accessibility Features

NFL stadiums have accessibility features that many guests overlook, such as bathrooms that accommodate wheelchairs and mobility aids. Elevators and escalators are also a standard expected by attendees with or without disabilities.

Despite access to common accessibility features, 31% of respondents found it difficult to access their or their guest’s seat. Customer volume can make accommodations difficult. For example, the number of accessible parking spots is limited, and shuttle services may augment accessible parking.

Some NFL stadiums, like AT&T Stadium in Dallas, also allow people who don’t have accessibility requirements to use the shuttle to leave the stadium. While expanding access to the shuttle may help post-event traffic, it also crowds out an accessibility feature vital to guests who can’t make the trek from the stadium to a distant parking spot.

Accessible seating runs into a similar limitation. While accessible seats are often easy to secure — 57% of respondents found it was either easy or neither easy nor difficult — those seats may be confined to certain sections of the stadium rather than being spread among popular areas across the stadium.

“If you’re a patron without disabilities, you can choose to sit down in the front,” Butler said. “You can choose to sit in the cheap, nosebleed seats. You can choose to sit in [the] end zones or midfield and it’s often people with disabilities just often have very little to no choice. There’s just one place where there’s accessible seats. I think that’s something that’s typically lacking.”

The NFL stadium accessibility survey questioned respondents about the ease of access.

Sensory Kits and Quiet Rooms

Twenty percent of survey respondents listed sensory aids as among the most important game-day accommodations, about the same amount as those who listed service animals.

Sensory kits often include noise-canceling headphones, sunglasses, weighted lap pads, and other devices that mitigate some of the overwhelming aspects of NFL games. They make guests feel more grounded and make it easier to sit through the game.

Sensory rooms are soundproof nooks that offer an escape from the noise and crowds of NFL games. They not only provide the same benefits as sensory kits. Sensory rooms also have room for other calming activities.

About 27% of respondents felt not very or not comfortable at all with utilizing available accommodations. Adding sensory rooms and offering sensory kits could reduce the segment of NFL fans who feel uncomfortable attending games.

While sensory kits can be distributed at any stadium, quiet rooms are among the newest accessibility features to enter the mainstream. The Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, and Jacksonville Jaguars introduced quiet rooms in their stadiums during the 2019 season. State Farm Stadium had a permanent quiet room installed before the Eagles and Chiefs faced off in the 2023 Super Bowl.

Gaming Today has learned the Detroit Lions have had a sensory room added to Ford Field that should be open this season. It was completed in October 2022 and is expected to go public in a matter of weeks.

In Gaming Today's NFL accessibility survey, respondents were asked to rank accessibility features.

Accessing Information About NFL Stadium Accessibility Offerings

While there’s great overlap in the accessibility features available at NFL stadiums, the availability of that information can vary. Gaming Today asked respondents to rate the ease or difficulty of finding information on accessibility options for their stadiums, with zero being extremely difficult and 10 being extremely easy. Fifty-eight percent of respondents rated ease as six or higher. Thirty-one percent rated the process as four or lower, showing that accessibility information can still be challenging.

“That sort of fear of the unknown leads a lot of people to not even take the step of buying a ticket or going there because they’re concerned about what their experience is going to be once they get there,” Butler said.

Convincing sports fans to spend money on expensive tickets is a hard sell when those fans are unsure about the experience they’ll have. Alleviating uncertainty about accessibility features would increase the likelihood of guests with disabilities purchasing tickets.

Even picking up accessibility tickets can be difficult. Some can be purchased directly through Ticketmaster. Other tickets with accessible seating may have to be redeemed at guest services. The lack of communication about how to get tickets for accessible seating can prevent guests with disabilities from attending games at all.

Next, the Gaming Today NFL accessibility survey focused on stadium staff.

NFL Stadium Accessibility Is A Work In Progress

When asked for things respondents were unable to do at NFL stadiums due to difficulty accommodating a disability, the most common responses concerned:

  • Accessible parking
  • Accessible seating
  • Wheelchair accessibility
  • Access to restrooms, concessions, and other amenities
  • Staffing levels required to assist with accommodations

NFL stadiums may offer accommodations, but those accommodations may struggle with the number of fans who require these services. Making accommodations will require more than adherence to the ADA. Viewing accommodations should be seen as a way to access a vibrant customer base rather than a laborious project.

“People with disabilities aren’t always feeble and suffering people,” Butler said. “They are people who will buy tickets, who will buy merchandise, who will buy food … So it’s not just this poor little segment of old people in the corner. It’s actually all of us and we should capitalize on making it more accessible so they can be involved in every part of that [game day].”

Matt Schoch of Gaming Today provided additional reporting.

About the Author
Christopher Gerlacher

Christopher Gerlacher

Senior Writer
Christopher Gerlacher is a senior writer and contributor for Gaming Today. He is a versatile and experienced industry expert with an impressive portfolio who has range from political and legislative pieces to sports and sports betting. He's a devout Broncos fan, for better or for worse, living in the foothills of Arvada, Colorado.

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