Opinion

Our View | Penn State must do better for disabled fans

We are ... Penn State.

It’s the university community’s signature chant, a bonding cry commonly shouted at rallies and sporting events.

Judging from the sentiment, all Nittany Lions fans should feel united under the blue and white banner.

But apparently that’s not the case. At the Sept. 6 home opener, some found themselves relegated to second-class citizens of Penn State Nation.

By some accounts, the university fumbled its new Americans with Disabilities Act-accessibility parking arrangement.

Even Penn State acknowledged its shortcomings. “Please know that it is our desire to provide a safe and enjoyable experience for each and every fan on game day, and we clearly failed with our ADA parking and shuttle service,” Associate Athletic Director Mark Bodenschatz said.

Apology accepted. Now make amends.

Some physically impaired fans already were unhappy when Penn State decided to move the ADA spaces from near Beaver Stadium to distant Innovation Park, more than two miles away. As far as being part of the tailgating scene, it might as well have been another time zone.

Penn State said the change was necessary because the Intramural Building expansion and Pegula Ice Arena construction ate up traditional ADA spaces.

Setting aside the question of whether Penn State could have found closer alternatives for people with mobility issues, the reason for the move makes sense. The spaces were gone.

It could have worked if Penn State had pulled it off smoothly. But that didn’t happen.

Some of the stadium shuttles were unmodified school buses. One couple said they were told only half of the buses were ADA accessible and just five buses were actually running.

Some fans had a rough ride — thanks to a careless driver. En route, a scooter was left unsecured, as was an elderly woman’s wheelchair. She bumped her head when it overturned.

The fan with the scooter chose to drive back to Innovation Park rather than risk the bus.

Penn State has vowed to do better. We expect no less.

For Saturday’s game against UMass, the university plans to have more shuttles, all wheelchair accessible. Furthermore, all drivers will be educated on ADA compliance, and the drop-off will be in the front row of the Red Lot, next to the stadium.

Penn State also said it’s adding 50 spaces at Wagner Building a block from the stadium, though fans will have to come early and stay afterward until pedestrian traffic thins — a potential problem, one fan said, given the lack of handicapped-accessible bathrooms in the area.

We trust that Penn State, where students are working on a moon explorer, can figure out how to serve its ADA fans. This isn’t rocket science. Round up enough accessible buses. Train the drivers. Get people to the game swiftly and safely.

While it’s at it, maybe Penn State could designate an ADA-only picnic area next to the stadium, one where wheelchair- and scooter-bound fans and their families could enjoy the same tradition as able-bodied Penn Staters — but without having to pay a bundle as the Nittany Lion Club members do for the 40 ADA spaces at the Nittany Lion Softball Park.

Money may talk, but it would speak volumes if Penn State could sacrifice a little cash and perhaps free more ADA spaces near the stadium.

In the meantime, let’s see some immediate changes Saturday. That way, “We are ... Penn State” would be completely true.

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