University of Minnesota
Roberta Juarez, a University staff member in Disability Services for the past 15 years, has been a key player in working to make TCF Bank Stadium a beacon of accessibility.
Photo: Patrick O'Leary
U staffer helps ensure that new stadium is a model of accessibility
By Ami Berger
Even as the new TCF Bank Stadium is assuming its final shape at the eastern edge of campus, there's plenty of work taking place that doesn't involve steel or concrete. Just one of these behind-the-scenes efforts is ensuring that the state-of-the-art facility is accessible to the entire University community and its visitors, including individuals with disabilities.
Spearheading that effort is Roberta Juarez, a University staff member in Disability Services for the past 15 years. Currently, Juarez has two roles in Disability Services: as a disability specialist, she meets with students with disabilities to learn about their needs and recommends reasonable accommodations; and as the University's physical access coordinator, she provides consultation and expertise on a wide range of projects to ensure their accessibility, such as new or remodeled campus buildings.
It's this latter role that originally brought Juarez into the stadium project. "I was thrilled to learn that Roberta was asked to provide input in the very early stages of the stadium's design," says Eric Schnell, interim director of Disability Services, who is also pleased at the degree to which Juarez was involved in the planning. "I've frequently seen her huddled with architects examining blueprints," he says.
Juarez, who is certified by the state of Minnesota as an Accessibility Specialist, has been involved with the planning of the facility since 2006. Her role is to work with the stadium team from the University, HOK Sport (the stadium architect), and various other groups on the entire scope of accessibility concerns, from parking to flooring to rest room design.
"All of us wanted this project to set a new standard," she says. "We saw this as an opportunity to show what's possible in making a facility like this not just accessible, but truly welcoming for all guests, no matter their level of ability."
"We talked about what was both required for access and what was desired for access," she says, "and we tried to be innovative and creative, within the limits of the technology currently available to us." Juarez was eager to see the stadium go above and beyond the baseline of what was required by Minnesota code and the Americans with Disabilities Act. "All of us wanted this project to set a new standard," she says. "We saw this as an opportunity to show what's possible in making a facility like this not just accessible, but truly welcoming for all guests, no matter their level
According to Juarez, the completed stadium will be one of the most accessible in the nation. It will include numerous unisex bathrooms for guests who have opposite-sex caregivers or assistants, and most multi-stall restrooms will feature double the number of accessible stalls that are required by law. Different textures will be built into floors in key areas of the stadium to provide way-finding cues for guests with visual impairments, and elevator access will be available for all public areas of the stadium.
Juarez is currently working with the University's Parking and Transportation Services to determine the best locations for disability parking and drop-off areas for guests with limited mobility.
Despite the amount of effort Juarez has put into the stadium project, she's enthusiastic about both the process and the outcome. "It's been so much fun," she says, "and it really is a once-in-a-lifetime project." The stadium team has been very receptive to her suggestions, and she also gives credit to the University Services staff who are responsible for adhering to University standards and state and federal codes across campus.
"The University's facilities staff are consistently responsive, innovative, and encouraging about issues of accessibility. They frequently go beyond what is required by code to make access better for people with disabilities," she says. "I think it demonstrates the U's overall commitment to providing welcoming access to people with differing needs."
Schnell agrees with that assessment, and includes Juarez in it. "Roberta is a true professional who is exceptionally knowledgeable about issues pertaining to the physical accessibility of facilities," Schnell says, "and the stadium will be one of the most accessible stadiums in the nation, thanks to Roberta's work."