While Gillette Stadium offers many accessibility features, it lags behind other stadiums in key areas that make a big difference for guests with sensory disabilities.
A PlayMA analysis has found that Gillette Stadium concessions counters are accessible to guests with wheelchairs and there is accessible seating throughout the stadium. However, the home of the New England Patriots is behind on mobility assistance, wheelchair storage and sensory kits.
Failing to offer these accommodations makes it less likely that fans with disabilities will attend. That deprives a large segment of the fan base with the option to see their favorite team. It also deprives Gillette Stadium of a segment of enthusiastic customers.
A recent Gaming Today survey found that about 66% of guests with disabilities or who bring guests with disabilities had a good, very good or excellent experience. However, the same survey found that 46% of respondents did not feel their or their guest’s disabilities were understood. The Patriots’ home stadium in Foxborough trails behind other NFL stadiums in a few key areas.
Common accessibility options for physical disabilities
The most common accessibility features are ones that accommodate guests with physical disabilities. Escalators, accessible elevators, and accessible restrooms are often taken for granted by people without disabilities.
NFL stadiums offer a range of accessibility features. Accessible seating is available at every NFL stadium, but only some spread accessible seating throughout the stadium to give guests with disabilities the same seating options as guests without disabilities.
Gillette Stadium doesn’t have mobility assistance or wheelchair storage, which are two cutting-edge accessibility features for people with wheelchairs. Mobility assistance allows customers to request temporary wheelchair services at guest services. This allows people who don’t have their own wheelchairs to more easily traverse the stadium. Wheelchair storage also allows people with wheelchairs to store them while they’re at their seats during the game.
The Pittsburgh Steelers offer both services at their stadium. Guests can visit their closest guest services station to store their wheelchairs during the game. NFL guests can also request one of a limited number of wheelchairs at guest services.
The Patriots’ stadium could offer these two services to modernize its accessibility options for guests with physical disabilities.
Patriots lag behind in sensory accommodations
One of the biggest drawbacks of visiting Gillette Stadium is the lack of sensory kits and sensory rooms available to guests with sensory disabilities.
NFL stadiums have begun to offer sensory kits at guest services. Sensory kits are bags that may include fidget spinners, noise-canceling headphones, or other amenities that help guests prone to sensory overload. For example, NFL fans with autism will be more comfortable throughout the game when provided momentary escapes from the stadium’s noise and stimulus. These are only advertised at about a third of NFL stadiums.
Sensory rooms are the latest offerings to make NFL games accessible to all fans. These are small rooms that are built to block the noises from outside. For example, they can keep guests with autism at events longer instead of making them decide whether to leave early.
Sensory rooms are a recent offering among NFL stadiums. In 2019, only four NFL teams had built sensory rooms for season use. This year, at least nine stadiums have sensory rooms. Gillette Stadium is not among them.
Gillette Stadium accessibility investments
The gaps in Gillette Stadium’s accessibility options are unusual. Only two other NFL stadiums offer neither wheelchair storage nor mobility services. Additionally, failing to offer sensory kits is an oversight that shortens the amount of time that guests with sensory disabilities can stay at Patriots games. While over half of NFL stadiums don’t advertise sensory kits in the ADA sections of their websites, sensory kits have become more common in the past six years. NFL stadiums that fail to offer sensory accommodations will quickly fall behind.
While sensory rooms require planning, sensory kits are easier to provide. Providing these kits at guest services would help modernize Gillette Stadium’s disability accommodations. Dedicating resources to mobility assistance would also catch Gillette Stadium up to the heightening bar for accessibility.
Accessibility features must continue to be fought for, but as more stadiums embrace new methods of increasing stadium accessibility, they also increase the pool of customers who will commit to game day.