Man says accessible seats at Jays games provide little view of action

WATCH ABOVE: Alexei Vella says Father’s Day game was “not the experience a baseball game should be.” Mark Carcasole reports. 

TORONTO — It’s a been a few weeks but artist Alexei Vella still has hard feelings about his family’s experience taking his dad to the Blue Jays’ sold out Father’s Day game on June 21.

“It wasn’t the experience that a baseball game should be,” says Vella. Despite his disappointment he smiles throughout the interview.

Vella lives with muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, so his family bought seats in the accessible area of section 113 B. That’s in right field.

The family was caught by surprise by the view though, and not in a pleasant way.

Pictures provided by Vella to Global News show him sitting behind a metal barrier meant to prevent spectators from falling over the drop directly in front of them. The problem is that the top of that barrier stands at Vella’s eye-level, restricting his ability to view the action.

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“The bars are really a nuisance,” he says.

“Beside us was another person in a wheelchair. They got frustrated and left.”

READ MORE: Ontario lays out plan to address accessibility issues

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There is a catch, though. Vella never brought his concerns to the attention of Rogers Centre customer service. “We decided to make the best of it,” he says.

Asked why he didn’t say something when he had the chance Vella says he’s been in similar situations before and generally never sees the action he desires.

“Sometimes it goes on deaf ears. You have to talk to the right person. And on that day…we were focused on Father’s Day.”

“Had he (spoken to staff) we probably would’ve been able to relocate him into a comparable or better suited area,” says Mario Coutinho, Rogers Centre’s vice-president of Stadium Operations and Security.

Accessible spots on the stadium’s 100 level are not permanently in place like the ones in the venue’s higher levels. The higher levels also don’t have the same barriers. The 100 level section gets reconfigured regularly for Argos games and concerts.

In the future, after the next building review, officials hope to replace the metal barrier with clear plexiglass for Jays games. In that case, the height wouldn’t matter.

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Rogers Centre officials say they’re constantly aware of the need to keep on top of accessibility in a building that was built in the late ’80s.

Coutinho knows the current solution in section 113 B is not perfect, but “it’s a difficult one,” he says.

“Those bars were actually higher a few years ago and were lowered. It’s a safety issue because of the height [of the drop], you have to comply with building code as well. And at the moment, that was the option at the time.”

After reporting on film executive Paul Bronfman’s battle with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment over concert sightlines in lower level accessible seating at the Air Canada Centre, Global News got feedback from multiple viewers who voiced similar concerns. But aside from Vella’s there haven’t been any complaints about accessible seating at the Rogers Centre.

A quick scan online found a couple sporadic blog and social media posts, including one on Twitter, coincidentally from Father’s Day 2012, sitting in roughly the same area, with the same problem.

Vella says he doesn’t want free tickets or souvenirs, just an apology and “for [management] to acknowledge that they have issues…they should take account that there are people like me that want to watch a game and [Rogers Centre] should make some changes.”
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Until then, Vella says he won’t be going to any more Blue Jays games, but he has learned the value of speaking up.

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