Commentary : Wheelchair Rocker Says It's Time for Equal Access

The writer is a free - lancer who uses a wheelchair.

An estimated 71,000 U2 fans will jam the Coliseum Tuesday and Wednesday nights, purchase T-shirts and probably enjoy a very memorable event. I will be among the screaming crowd with my Bic lighter in hand, but I won't be sitting where I want to be.

My experience with this concert began weeks ago when the tickets went on sale and my oldest teen-age daughter asked: "Do we have to sit with you?"

I understood, after a day of sulking, that her question was not a denial of love. She was making it known that she did not want to sit in the wheelchair section, more than a football field away from the stage.

The Coliseum has 135 spaces at the west end of the arena for people in wheelchairs and a guest. My daughter wanted to sit closer and so did I for that matter, but the construction of the Coliseum as it is now does not allow it.

There has been talk about adding a wheelchair section closer to midfield, according to Jerry Nielsen, assistant general manager of the Coliseum.

During the planning period for the Olympics, new accommodations were discussed--permanent and temporary--but nothing was carried through. The cosmetic work done for the Olympics did not come under state building code for wheelchair access.

California requires all building permit applicants for reconstruction to study the accessibility of the structure and make changes according to the amount of work planned. The regulations differ between privately owned structures and those funded by the public, as is the Coliseum.

The rules are more stringent for publicly funded buildings, says Jud Boies of the Office of the State Architect in Sacramento. The Coliseum could not be forced, however, to make changes at this time. Boies suggested that advocacy groups take up the fight. "They might have more of an effect."

The Coliseum is headed by a commission of representatives from the city and county of Los Angeles and the state. Mason Rose, founder of the California Assn. for the Physically Handicapped and a Southern California attorney, approached the commission 10 years ago with possible changes.

Rose, however, says that cost has been the major issue in regards to modification for chairs. But now that the Coliseum Commission has received a $19.6 million damage settlement from the National Football League, couldn't a fraction be used for improvements for the handicapped?

For the U2 concert there will be seating on the field, though none of it will be for wheelchairs. There is no elevator from the street level entrance to the field. People in wheelchairs would have to use a long, steep ramp for field access.

Neilson noted that the ramp "can be a little scary for a person handling a chair. You can slip very easily. I've never felt comfortable with it."

State regulations would probably require the Coliseum to add spaces if major construction took place. The requirements are one wheelchair space for every 500 seats in stadiums with seating capacities over 5,000. For the Coliseum this would mean an additional 50 to 70 spaces.

The Coliseum's restrooms already are accessible for wheelchairs.

Wheelchair tickets for Coliseum events can be purchased only at the box office and through the mail. They are not offered by the major ticket outlets.

Attorney Rose brought up an issue not covered by regulations, and that is the number of guests allowed to accompany a person in a wheelchair. "You can't do any business entertaining, nor can you sit with your entire family."

Neilson says, however, that accommodations may be made for families and friends, depending on the number of tickets sold and if the person makes arrangements.

"We don't want to fill the section with ambulatory people," Neilson said. "But at the same time, we're not like a big rigid machine."

One prevalent argument heard often when discussing the Coliseum modifications is the age of the building. Rose, however, states that the structure may have been built before regulations, but it wasn't built before there were disabled people.

All of which is difficult to explain to a 14-year-old wanting to sit closer than a football field away from rock's hottest band.

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