On game-days, fans load up in RVs, fashion themselves in purple and gold and make their way to Tiger Stadium to soak in the Saturday experience. Few University traditions are more iconic than the sight of the Golden Band from Tigerland marching down Victory Hill or the first notes of “Callin’ Baton Rouge” playing on the loudspeaker before kickoff.
Unfortunately for some life-long Tiger enthusiasts, game-days are not always such an inclusive experience.
Anne Marie Barrios, daughter of 1959 alumna Carol Scheffer Ford, said a lack of appropriate handicap accommodations made their game-day experience turn sour.
Barrios purchased tickets to the LSU-New Mexico State game in September 2014 as a birthday gift for her mother.
Her mother had two chronic diseases which required an oxygen tank and inhibited her mobility, so Barrios decided to bring her in a wheelchair. She described the whole day as “a disaster from start to finish.”
“It makes me sad they care so little for disabled individuals,” Barrios said. “By the end of the day, I was physically drained, and my mother felt guilty for what I had to go through just so we could see a football game.”
She detailed their experience in a written letter to the University, LSU President F. King Alexander and local news stations, but never received any responses.
In 2019, Tiger Stadium’s handicap accommodations are something Barrios still thinks about and wishes had been addressed while her mother was alive.
Ford was the president of her local LSU alumni association and a frequent donor. She passed away two years after the New Mexico State game, which Barrios said is the last LSU game her mother attended.
“It makes me so angry all over again,” Barrios said. “People deserve better.”
In the letter, Barrios wrote that she and her mother, who were visiting from Alexandria, had to park in the Barnes and Noble parking garage because all paid-access handicap parking spots were taken. She knew the handicapped spots were available on a first-come, first-serve basis but didn’t want to leave earlier and compromise her mother’s ability to make it through the long day.
Although Barrios was prepared for a long walk, she was not prepared for the poor conditions of sidewalks along Highland Road and Dalrymple Drive. There were spots on the road so bumpy her mother’s wheelchair could not go over them, and at least one other spot on the sidewalk where there was an upward ramp but not a downward ramp.
The trouble continued when Barrios said she was stopped by an elevator attendant and informed she had to present a handicap parking pass before using the elevator. Barrios said she pointed out to the attendant that her mother being in a wheelchair should be enough and they were let on.
Once in the stadium, Barrios discovered the wheelchair seat she purchased was mounted with no way for her mother to get to. The attendants had to switch Barrios’ and her mother’s seats.
Barrios asked attendants to charge her mother’s oxygen tank in the middle of the game so it would be fully charged on the ride home to Alexandria. While the attendants initially obliged, Barrios said she returned for the machine in the second half of the game and it was unplugged and moved to the side.
The worst part of the day for Barrios was after the game, when she was taking her mother to use the bathroom in the west deck.
“This is the part that was absolutely pathetic, humiliating for both of us and completely unacceptable for a major university, government entity or sports event, all of which this game qualified for,” Barrios wrote in her letter.
Barrios was unable to fit her mother’s wheelchair completely into the stall and had to stand at the door to guard it from people seeing her mother using the bathroom.
Barrios said the fiasco made her and her mother feel uncomfortable, anxious and embarrassed.
When they left the stadium, Barrios was pushing her along the sidewalk area adjacent to the north endzone, and the sidewalk was blocked by barricades. Because of the blockage, Barrios turned around and backtracked about 50 yards to push her mother in the street.
Two police officers were standing near the women, but were looking down at their cell phones and offered no assistance, Barrios said.
“I was able to push her through a break in the barriers, but I had to wait for five cars to pass while the cops were sure to check their e-mails, text messages and sports updates,” Barrios wrote in her letter. “I wouldn’t have wanted them to be burdened by taking their eyes off their phones to actually help people, of course.”
Barrios, like her mother, is an LSU fan. She still attends games and her daughter is a University alumna.
“For my dear mother, I endured these obstacles,” Barrios wrote. “But it brought the University down a great deal in my eyes.”
Tiger Stadium has 450 handicapped seats in the general seating area, excluding club and suits. Sections with ADA accessible seating include 86 seats in the North Lower-Section 200, 186 seats in the East Upper Deck, 150 seats in the West Upper Deck and 28 seats in the SkyLine.
As for parking, there are more than 200 spaces in lot 409 on a first-come, first-serve basis for visitors with a handicap placard. There are also spaces available for advance purchase in lot 409 while inventory lasts, according to Senior Associate Athletics Director Robert Munson.
“This has been more than sufficient for ADA parking needs to date,” Munson said.
ADA shuttles run to assist guests to and from the stadium in lot 409.
Munson said he has never had a guest request to plug in their oxygen tank, but the stadium does allow fans to enter with them and offers use of first-aid rooms for assistance if needed.
Another die-hard LSU fan, Heather Nicole Matthews, posted on Facebook about her difficulties taking her mother to a game after her mother was involved in a serious car accident that crushed her ankle.
“She bleeds purple and gold and attends every football game in Death Valley, but it is very difficult for her to get to our seats,” Matthews wrote in her post.
Matthews went on to say part of the difficulty is a lack of handrails, which don’t extend past the 11th row of seats. Her mother has to hold on to someone’s waist to prevent falling.
“She has fallen in the stadium several times, and it is quite scary,” Matthews wrote.
Matthews concluded her post by asking the University to consider adding handrails in upper rows of seats.
Munson said all the upper decks have handrails extending the entire row.
“We would recommend that ticketholders look at their tickets and if they have any physical impairments, ask questions prior to purchasing seats,” Munson said. “Ask about ramp access, elevators, escalators, stairs or anything that might be of concern.”
It has been years since Barrios’ unpleasant experience, but she still thinks about it frequently and wishes the University would address the issue. She has many friends who don’t bring their elderly parents to football games because of the difficulties associated with the University’s bumpy sidewalks, lack of adequate parking and narrow bathroom stalls.
“It’s not right. Just because you need assistance, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to enjoy things,” Barrios said. “You’re not dead yet.”