Where There's a Wheelchair, There's a Way
Fred Shotz keeps a tape measure in the bag dangling from the back of his wheelchair for precisely this kind of situation.
The long-haired 49-year-old reaches down and, with the tape sliding out, measures the distance from the floor to the bottom of a water fountain in the concourse at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter.
"This one is 33 inches," he says. "That's too high."
Chalk up another complaint for the federal lawsuit against Palm Beach County and the three baseball teams that play in the new $28 million stadium.
Shotz, a paraplegic himself, sued the stadium in March for failing to meet the standards of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The adult water fountain doesn't meet guidelines, he says, because it's so high that a blind person won't be able to detect it with his cane before he bumps into it. It's simple: The cane is waved low, the water fountain is high. Objects protruding from walls can't be higher than 27 inches from the floor.
He'd already checked the ashtrays fixed to the walls of the concourse, which were also once too high for cane-carrying blind folks. They'd been lowered by management after Shotz filed his federal complaint. The old drill holes are still visible, about a foot above the newly placed ashtrays.
Stadium management had also moved the toilet paper dispensers in the bathroom that blocked the disabled from using the rail to help them get on the john.
Small victories, yes, but Shotz isn't finished with the stadium yet. He is also suing over more serious problems, which could cost the county tens of thousands of dollars to fix: problems with parking, with access to seats for the disabled, and with the lines of sight from those seats to the action on the diamond.
Shotz doesn't come without credentials. As a man who makes his living consulting companies on how to meet ADA standards, he's already helped Pro Player Stadium, Miami Arena, Coral Sky Amphitheatre, and the City of Dania level the proverbial field for the disabled.
As a full-time rabble-rouser, he also sometimes sues companies that won't meet ADA standards. He admits he's even been accused of extortion by at least one company's officials who believed he had, in effect, threatened to sue them if they didn't hire him as a consultant.
"I gave them the phone number of [Florida Attorney General] Bob Butterworth and the state attorney and told them to go ahead and file charges of extortion against me, or quit dragging my name down," Shotz claims.
If it sounds like hardball, it is. Shotz, who grew up in Philadelphia, calls himself a born "social activist." In a wheelchair full-time for about five years, he's had serious physical problems since he broke his back in 1969 at Woodstock.
He was working as a "paramedic" in the "bummer tent" at that most famous of music festivals, helping those on bad LSD trips. After many, many hours of this, he took a walk along a local road to gather himself and was hit by a car. Hit and run. Three broken vertebrae. Major bummer.
After months of rehab, he was able to walk again, and in 1972, Shotz says, Abbie Hoffman called him down to Miami Beach for the Republican Convention, and he ended up in jail with Allen Ginsberg "chanting mantras and doing poetry readings."
He remained in Florida, got married, and he and his wife became "family therapists." Then, during the '80s, they became the "Love Doctors" in the growing sex-therapy market. The couple sold sexually explicit videos via Penthouse and Playgirl magazines. Touting themselves as doctors, they marketed the tapes to universities. Phil Donahue had them on his show, and they made a bundle.
Then, in 1991, both Fred and Linda Shotz were charged with lying about their educational backgrounds. Turned out neither one of one them was a bona fide doctor. They lost their business.
Not long after that, problems stemming from the old Woodstock injury began taking their toll on Shotz, and he was confined to a wheelchair. Now he has the ADA consulting firm and works as an advocate for various associations for the disabled. He lives in a 4000-square-foot house just outside Dania on a gorgeous acre-and-a-half plot of old oak-topped land. The home is full of Linda Shotz's lovely paintings and sculptures of nudes. Every Sunday, artists come to her house and paint a live nude model, while Fred Shotz makes them lunch.
In 1995, Shotz complained that he couldn't get to a nude beach in Dade County, prompting the county to cough up $40,000 to make the beach accessible to the disabled. The story was picked up by the Associated Press and ran all over the country.
Now he's trying to squeeze some justice from Roger Dean Stadium, the new spring training home of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Montreal Expos and the permanent digs for the minor league's Jupiter Hammerheads. The stadium, named for a car dealership owner whose family donated $1 million to the project, was designed by HOK, Inc., the same firm that masterminded the much-adored Camden Yards in Baltimore.
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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