Lawsuit filed for sports accessibility – Many facilities not accessible to spectators

Patricia Scott  started a lawsuit on May 24, 2001 in State District Court against the City of Brooklyn Park and […]

Patricia Scott  started a lawsuit on May 24, 2001 in State District Court against the City of Brooklyn Park and the Brooklyn Park Athletic Association (BPAA).  Scott is suing the City of Brooklyn Park to remove physical obstacles in its parks which keep her from being able to take
advantage of recreational opportunities available in those parks for people who do not use a wheelchair or other walking aid, and for compensatory damages.  Scott is suing the BPAA because they currently do not schedule sporting events in space that is accessible to persons who use wheelchairs.  Scott is not suing BPAA for monetary damages.

Scott had polio as a child, and now has Post-Polio Syndrome.  Because she has very limited ability to walk, she uses a motorized wheelchair.  Scott is a single parent with a son, Zachary, who is now 12 years old.  Zach loves sports, and takes advantage of most of the recreational sports programs available to him as a Brooklyn Park resident, including soccer, baseball, basketball and football.

“Ever since my son was five years old and played T-ball, I have not known, from game to game, from sport to sport, whether or not I would be able to participate at his games and events in the same way that parents without disabilities do.  Parents come to these games, sit together and socialize with each other, shout encouragement to their children, even talk to them if they have problems in the game, or bring them ice if they get an injury, all kinds of things.  When I try to attend Zach’s games, his practice games, or award ceremonies or picture-taking ceremonies, I often cannot participate, or I am relegated to sitting in isolated space away from the rest of the parents and the teams.  This is humiliating and very painful for me,” Scott said.

In addition, Patricia Scott is unable to participate in many other park activities.  “The City has 55 beautiful parks which offer great opportunities for family recreation, including hikes, picnics, and children’s sporting events.  I can’t participate in most of these activities, and other people who use wheelchairs would not be able to either, because we cannot independently navigate parks where there are no accessible pathways,” Scott said.  “I’ve also seen elderly persons, persons who broke their legs and are on crutches, mothers with strollers, all kinds of people, who have trouble navigating these parks when there are no accessible paths,” Scott adds.

The barriers she has encountered include:  no handicapped parking in some parks, no accessible pathways to fields or bleachers, wire barriers surrounding the parking lot which prevent her from getting into the park, and lack of accessible public toilets.  Scott wants the City to remove those physical obstacles.  She also wants the City to compensate her in monetary damages for the emotional distress she has suffered over the years trying to access various parks and services.

Scott is also bringing suit against  the Brooklyn Park Athletic Association for continuing to schedule programs and events in parks which are not accessible to Scott or other persons with disabilities in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities
Act.  “I’m not suing Brooklyn Park Athletic Association for money.  I just want them to schedule their programs and athletic events in accessible places,” Scott said.

Since the summer of 1998, Scott has discussed the problems with staff of the City’s Parks and Recreation Department, and has even toured some of the more problematic parks with staff to demonstrate the access problems.

In June 1999, when no substantial changes had occurred, Scott  filed a complaint against the City with the Department of Human Rights.  The Department investigated the charge and  found Probable Cause to believe that the City had discriminated against Scott.  She participated for
several months in a process of conciliation through the Office of the Attorney General in an attempt to settle this complaint with the City.  While her charge resulted in some improvements by the City in some of its parks, the City was unwilling to take measures to remove physical obstacles in compliance with the law.

“I want to send a message”

Attorneys from the Minnesota Disability Law Center are representing Scott in this lawsuit.  They filed a complaint on behalf of Scott in District Court against the City of Brooklyn Park for its unwillingness to remove physical barriers in its parks.  Scott wants the City of Brooklyn Park to remove physical obstacles, to provide accessible pathways and public toilets, and to provide handicapped parking.  “I am suing the City for monetary damages as well.  I want to send a message that they cannot continue to ignore their responsibility to make the parks accessible,”
said Scott.  Scott is not suing the BPAA to recover any monetary damages.

Scott’s attorneys, Kathy Hagen and Rick Macpherson, state that the City of Brooklyn Park was required to remove all physical obstacles and make its facilities and programs accessible by June 7, 1985.  “Sixteen years after that date, the City has still not removed physical barriers in its parks.  This is a violation of the public service provisions of the Minnesota Human Rights Act,” states Hagen.  The parks included in the suit are the ones that Scott has used in connection with her son’s games and athletic activities.  These parks include:  the two soccer complexes, Central Park, North Woods Park, Norwood Park, River Park, Zanewood Park and Monroe Park.  Scott believes, however, that many other parks are also not accessible to persons who use wheelchairs
or other walking aids.

“The City and the Brooklyn Park Athletic Association both should have been working toward making all parks and recreational opportunities accessible to anyone with a disability.  They were putting the burden on me to take extra steps to provide my own access.  Even when I took those extra steps, the practice games remained inaccessible to me, and many scheduled games were held in parks which were not accessible.  I always had to worry, any time I went to a game or practice game, or to pick Zach up from a practice game, or tried in any way to participate, that I would not be able to even get into the park.  It creates constant tension and anxiety every time Zach has a sporting event,” Scott said.

Information for this article was supplied by the Minnesota Disability Law Center.

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