Is wheelchair accessible seating at Williams-Brice truly inclusive?

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Just because seating is wheelchair accessible, is it truly inclusive? That's the question one couple is raising after their Facebook post garnered thousands of views in just a couple days.

"I wanted to bring up the motto 'no limits,'" said Sophie Keyes. "And here we are, a student who pays tuition, living here, who is limited."

Sophie is referring to her boyfriend, Michal Hoge, who was paralyzed in a swimming accident in the summer of 2015 after his freshman year at the University of South Carolina.

He hadn't been to a South Carolina football game since his freshman year before he was injured. That was until Sept. 16 when he was given two tickets on the 50-yard line for the home opener against Kentucky.

"That was the whole point of why I took the tickets," Michal said. "I was like, absolutely. A highly touted Will Muschamp team? No way I'm turning down 50-yard-line tickets."

The videos posted to Sophie's Facebook show Michal being carried to his seat by a friend and an event staffer. The couple was aware that going to the game in a non-wheelchair accessible area would be challenging, but they didn't know the extent of the limitations.

"We don't really have integrated seating for people with disabilities," Sophie said. " And we don't have a lot of seating for people with disabilities."

We took a tour of Williams-Brice stadium to see where the accessible seating is located. There is a heavy cluster on the south side end zone, with other areas dispersed throughout Williams-Brice stadium was built in 1934.

Since the initial construction, there have been numerous renovations and additions, including for wheelchair-user seating areas.

But, the Americans with Disabilities Act was revised most recently in 2010, with the last major renovation to Williams-Brice having been completed in 1996. The 2010 Act only applies to new construction.

We spoke to a legal expert based in Boston, who has been instrumental in helping architectural firms design new stadiums. After looking at the Williams-Brice stadium map, he says it's time for some updates.

"They just can't-do what they did," McGuire said. "Dumping all the wheelchair locations in one location in the end zone."

McGuire said it starts with a review and a complete audit of the status of the stadium as it stands now.

"You're looking at that building overall and then you're trying to figure out what's going on at a level by level and you're looking at the ticket pricing," McGuire said. "And then you're looking at paths of travel. How do people get to those seats?"

South Carolina Athletics Director Ray Tanner said he's open to continuing to grow and make changes at the stadium.

"We want to satisfy patrons. We want to accommodate everyone," Tanner said.

He said it's not an issue of declining requests, it's an issue of being made aware of them. And now that he knows, he wants to fully address any concerns.

"I know that we're providing an ample number of seats because we're not declining the opportunity to come to games. Do we need to improve sight lines? Do we need to make the experience better? Do we need to look at the student section? Those questions have to be addressed sooner than later."

There are several sections in the low bowl that do not have any wheelchair accessibility. One of those, section 5, was where Michal and Sophie had tickets for the Kentucky game.

But, that didn't stop them from going. Michal has been a lifelong Gamecock fan, going to games since he was a young kid.

"Saturday night when it gets rocking in Williams-Brice it's unlike anything else," said Michal. "It's the experience of going to the game."

That's why Sophie and Michal posted the videos to Facebook, to start a dialogue about why accessible may not always mean "inclusive." Tanner said it's a conversation that begins with the administration and the USC student body president.

For Michal, life continues to move and he continues to grow in his new perspective. Though he isn't "sandstorming" in the student section, he's pushing for awareness, so everyone can have the Williams-Brice experience he grew up loving.

"Going through the initial grief and realization of what had happened, you know you go through denial and all those different stages. The sooner that you can accept your new perspective, the sooner you can get on with your life."

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