Quality Service at the Ball Park
By Bob Branco
August 13, 2021
I have had numerous discussions with blind people about the quality of services that we need, as well as how certain situations in our lives should be more adaptable. In some cases, we become discouraged when the environment is not as adaptable as it should be. Therefore, we tend to stay away from that environment. A classic example is a sports stadium. Most of these stadiums are large, with many entrances, exits, stairs, ramps, elevators, and even an escalator. On some of the stairways, there is no railing to hold onto. This poses a problem for those of us with limited balance.
In 2005, I took a group of people with disabilities to a Boston Celtics basketball game at their home facility. We had to depend on each other in order to find our seats, which were near the top level. We had to go through a number of twists and turns, and the experience was so discouraging that I decided not to go back there for a long, long time. We had little or no assistance from the ushers, which didn’t help the situation. On the other hand, I’ve been taking groups of people with disabilities to Fenway Park to catch a Boston Red Sox game on numerous occasions, and although the experience was a bit more accommodating for a blind person, it can prove to be complicated if your mobility is limited. Don’t get me wrong. We received help from the ushers, and we were grateful for whatever help they offered us. However, the last time our group went to a Red Sox game, our experience with the ushers was one to write about, if for no other reason, to encourage people with disabilities to consider attending a sporting event if they had little confidence in coping with their environment effectively.
On Tuesday, August 10, 23 of us traveled to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox play the Tampa Bay Rays. Among our group, there were 8 blind people, two in wheelchairs, and several people with a slight cognitive disability. Seventeen of us chartered a bus from New Bedford, and traveled nearly 60 miles to the ball park in Boston while six others met us there. We had to worry about which gate to report to, how our digital tickets would be scanned, and how we were going to arrive at our assigned seats as easy as possible. This wasn’t new to most of us. We have been on similar outings for the past several years, so we know the drill. While most of us were at the gate trying to have our tickets scanned through the Fenway Park phone app, a few ushers approached the group and offered mobility assistance. It wasn’t as if one of us asked for help. These ushers approached us with an organized plan.
After we were satisfied that our tickets were properly scanned, the ushers brought us into the stadium. We took an elevator up to the level where are seats were, and eventually approached our section near right field. Many of us sat in the handicap row at the top of the section, so there were no stairs to climb. In fact, one of our blind guests walked very slowly, so the usher brought out a wheelchair for him to ride in.
We arrived at our section, sat in our assigned seats, and enjoyed the game. When the game was over, the ushers came back to our section and brought us out to the front gate so that we could wait for our transportation. We thanked them for their generosity, kindness, and sensitivity to the situation. I later learned that one or two of these ushers were training to become mobility instructors. Based on the treatment that we received, it didn’t surprise me at all.
The next day, I wrote a letter to the Fenway Park ticket office, showing my appreciation for how they helped us secure our tickets, but also to pass a message along to the ushers, thanking them once again for their help at the ball park.
As I talk to different people about our wonderful experience at the Red Sox game, I expect to hear two popular reactions. Some people might say that this is what ushers are supposed to do, especially when Fenway Park allows groups of persons with disabilities to go to the games. On the other hand, others might say that the ushers went above and beyond the call of duty. It’s up to us to decide which opinion is more accurate. No matter what, I hope this experience serves to encourage many other people with disabilities to attend sporting events, having faith that they will receive the proper assistance that they are entitled to. If you go to a game, and for some reason the ushers do not approach you, do not be afraid to ask for one. I have no doubt that he or she will assist you with whatever accommodation you need.