Where There's a Wheelchair, There's a Way

Former love doctor Fred Shotz is determined to make every sports venue in South Florida handicapped-accessible

If the height of the water fountains seems trivial, it wouldn't be for a blind man who pummels himself against it, Shotz reminds us. He also points to more serious problems, which haven't yet been addressed by the stadium. Many of the handicapped parking spots, for instance, don't have easy access to a sidewalk. Instead a paraplegic must wheel himself through traffic to get to a cut in the curb. Many of the handicapped spaces are located in the visiting team's parking lot, which is off-limits to the fans. Others are in the home team's lot, which is all but hidden from public view.

The seats for the disabled behind home plate are just a short flight of stairs away from the stadium entrance. Unfortunately, paraplegics can't use stairs. So they have to wheel themselves all the way to the end of the concourse, go up some pretty steep ramps, and then wheel themselves all the way back to the center. It's about a five-minute trek.

Once there, disabled people can only hope nobody is sitting in the seats directly in front of them. If those fans were to stand up, the person in the wheelchair, as Shotz puts it, would have to "imagine a home run." That's because they wouldn't be able to see over the head of the person standing up. Many stadiums place the disabled where they have a clear line of sight to the field.

Last Thursday night there was only one man in a wheelchair, other than Shotz, at the stadium for a Hammerheads game. Charles Liebmann, age 72, who points out that in German his last name translates to "Love Man," says he finds Roger Dean to be a pretty decent ballpark. But then nobody was standing in front of him. If a six-foot man stood there, Liebmann said, "You'd be a pain in the 'a' and I'd have to tell you to sit down."

Pretty soon the "Love Man" and the former "Love Doctor" are chumming it up.
"To tell you the truth," Liebmann concludes, "people in wheelchairs are abused everywhere."

In all, the problems Shotz points out would cost tens of thousands of dollars to fix or result in the loss of some moneymaking seats for the stadium, which is owned by the county and run by a company called Jupiter Stadium Ltd., which is also named as a defendant in the suit.

Jupiter Stadium General Manager Rob Rabenecker points out that they have fixed the ashtray and toilet paper dispenser problems and that they plan to put up signs to better direct the disabled on seating and parking matters. But as far as the larger concerns -- like visibility of on-field action and the questionable parking places -- he's not saying much.

"I think he's an interesting character, and I've enjoyed chatting with him," Rabenecker says of Shotz. "If he can provide us an opportunity to improve our operations, then I see it as a plus."

In the end that may be Fred Shotz's legacy. The born social activist with a few quirks and a colorful -- if not quite felonious -- past is getting things done that might make the world a little friendlier to someone who has lost the ability to walk.

"I was raised that you don't just do your job and then go home and watch TV," he explains. "You do something. When the Rolling Stones played Pro Player Stadium in 1994 or 1995, there were more disabled people there than at any concert I've ever seen. I made that happen, and I'm very proud of that.

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