If you are a fan of the Seattle Mariners, you have heard about their “step back” plan to rebuild their roster. But did you know that the Mariners have also been promoting their “back row” plan?
Facing a lawsuit filed by four people who use wheelchairs, the Mariners have been trying to convince federal Judge Barbara J. Rothstein that wheelchair-accessible seating at T-Mobile Park is “comparable” to nonaccessible seating at the stadium, which is what is required under federal law.
My, oh, my.
After sitting in wheelchair-accessible sections for Mariners games for 13 years, my family knows how wrong the Mariners are. My son uses a wheelchair. We know that our seating choices are not comparable. We know that although the Mariners say on their website that accessible seating is located “throughout the ballpark,” throughout is a fuzzy word.
Perhaps the most glaring example of this is in T-Mobile Park’s lower, 100 level, the part known as the “main bowl,” where fans can see and hear the action well and sit out in the open. If you are in a wheelchair — or want to sit with someone who is — it is all but off-limits.
How so? Of the 20,630 seats in the main 100 level, excluding the outfield bleachers, 180 are designed to be wheelchair-accessible. But of those 180 seats, 172 are located in the very back row of every section. That means that 96% of all designated wheelchair seats on the lower level are in the back row.
In most cases, the back row is Row 41A. Sit there and you will sit in relative darkness, deep under the overhanging level above. You will have a limited view of game action and scoreboards. You more likely will hear noise from the concourse directly behind you than the crack of the bat. I have sat in Row 41A — and I have sat a few rows forward. The experiences were far from comparable.
Even as they fight in court, the Mariners know things need to improve. Since the lawsuit was filed in 2018, they have made some changes to comply with the ADA, including increasing the depth of certain seating areas and improving accessibility to concessions.
They have also added a few places for wheelchairs at the field level, near home plate, in the so-called Diamond Club. These new seats are among the tiny 4% of accessible seats on the 100 level that are not in the back row. They can be very expensive and hard to get — even in games that are otherwise poorly attended.
Last season, those seats could cost several hundred dollars, and online ticket searches regularly showed no more than one seat available. Single-game tickets for the 2020 season went on sale Nov. 16. Good luck finding accessible seats anywhere but 41A.
“For the main bowl, it’s going to be that back row,” a Mariners ticket representative told me when I called.
When I told him I thought a few new accessible seats had been added closer to the field, he put me on a long hold. He returned to say that the Mariners were trying to sell those seats as season tickets but that some should be available for certain games at some point.
Meanwhile, thousands of nonaccessible seats are available in many different rows in the main bowl for all 81 home games. This week, there were excellent seats available in the fourth row of section 114 in a game against the Red Sox on Saturday night, April 11, for $68 a pop. I would love to splurge on those for my son. He would finally be able to see and hear the game clearly, to experience the action up close. But that is not going to happen because those seats are not accessible.
James Terry, an architect who has spent three decades making spaces accessible and serves as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the case, told me that the Mariners’ accessible seating plan “is clearly discriminatory.”
“Wheelchair users are just asking for the same kind of opportunity to enjoy the game that other people have,” Terry said. “The Mariners don’t provide that, and they haven’t really thought through what that does to people with disabilities.”
Judge Rothstein is expected to rule soon.