DOJ Settlement Will Make Brickyard More Accessible

As a result of a recent settlement agreement between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), the Indianapolis 500 will now be more accessible to everyone.

Under the terms of the agreement, more than 360 features, elements, and spaces at the IMS will be modified or improved to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Access upgrades will include more accessible grandstand seating, and access improvements to the bathrooms, parking areas and ramps throughout this 104-year old venue, which is billed as the largest spectator sporting facility in the world. Additionally, the infield mounds will also be made wheelchair-accessible.

But what’s really interesting about this settlement agreement is how it came about. One would think that with so many access violations, a spectator probably filed a complaint with the DOJ because there wasn’t enough accessible seating or the accessible bathrooms weren’t up to par. But that’s not the way it happened at all. In fact, the settlement resulted from a complaint about programmatic access.

Back in 1999 Dan Ward bought a pit pass for a practice session of the Indianapolis 500. He is a race fan, and that’s what race fans do. Unfortunately when Ward showed up at the speedway, IMS authorities denied him access to the pit area because he was in a wheelchair. He was told that his presence would be unsafe. Devastated, he filed a complaint with the DOJ. Fourteen years later, not only are IMS policies and practices going to be adjusted to make pit row more inclusive, but a whole slew of access shortcomings will also be corrected.

The access improvements are expected to take two years, and the DOJ will monitor their progress, and conduct follow-up inspections as the work progresses.

It sounds like a win-win situation for everyone, but as one of my colleagues asked me this morning, “Why did it take so long; after all the ADA went into effect nearly 23 years ago?”

Why, indeed?

There are some questions I just don’t have an answer to — and that is one of them. I could speculate, but then that would take away from this victory. Instead, I’ll just take my access one settlement agreement at a time, and consider this one another step forward.