Cleveland Browns in talks to "make adjustments" on wheelchair accessibility

The exterior of FirstEnergy Stadium in Downtown Cleveland.
The exterior of FirstEnergy Stadium in Downtown Cleveland. [Tupungato / Shutterstock]

Fans of the Cleveland Browns who have handicap accessibility needs are waiting for change after some took to social media three weeks ago. They called out the team management for a lack of parking or pick-up options for people using wheelchairs at games.

Shawn Philpot, a Shaker Heights resident and Browns fan, tweeted late last month a picture of fans in wheelchairs waiting outside the stadium after the game had ended. His father-in-law, who uses a wheelchair, has been dealing with long waits after games for years, he said.

“The tweet wasn’t out of anger. I love the franchise, I love the team,” Philpot said. “But there’s so much that goes on in terms of game day operations, it just felt like this somehow became an afterthought.”

His father-in-law lives in Hough, which is normally about ten to twelve minutes away from the stadium by car. But after a game finishes, it takes sometimes more than two hours to get a car to the designated pick-up area, Philpot said, and there isn’t enough parking for everyone who needs a closer spot to get one.

“We have fun, we have great seats, and for the most part the game day experience has been great. Unfortunately, a part of going to the games is a large amount of planning, in terms of time,” Philpot said.

After he first brought attention to the issue, Philpot said, a representative of the team reached out to hear his concerns. Philpot offered suggestions, including a virtual meeting for fans who use wheelchairs to discuss what they’ve experienced and how it could change.

In a Sept. 27 written statement, a Browns spokesperson said the team recognized the need for measures to help people in need of special assitance. Since then, the team has held “several beneficial conversations with our gameday partners, as well as other internal and external groups over the past few weeks, to make adjustments and enhancements to the comprehensive plan previously in place,” according to a statement emailed to Ideastream Public Media.

But Philpot says no one has contacted either him or his family to provide updates.

“I don’t want to be an enemy to the team or a thorn in their side. But I do feel the importance — between me, my wife, and my sister-in-law and my in-laws, I feel that this is important,” Philpot said.

Philpot’s family has tried to raise this issue with officials in the past in order to come up with a way to improve their experience, he said. But they haven’t been able to get a clear answer on who is responsible. Whether it’s the city of Cleveland, the Cleveland Division of Police, or the Cleveland Browns, he said, everyone tells him they aren’t in charge or responsible.

“So all three of you can’t get together and come up with a solution?” Philpot said. “The police, RTA, or city of Cleveland. Someone needs to step up instead of pointing the finger. And it’s time to do that, so we can have a better reputation.”

Ideastream Public Media reached out to Landmark Event Staffing Services which handles crowd management at FirstEnergy Stadium, which said they are not responsible for those decisions.

We also emailed the police department. A spokesperson said the Browns hold the permit for the roadway during game days.

In an emailed statement, a Browns spokesperson said they are working closely with the city of Cleveland and the police department to maximize safety.

The Browns have always been committed to implementing effective processes for going to and from games, the statement said, and they encourage fans in need of individual pickup or drop-off to contact guest services prior to game day.

The situation needs to improve, Philpot said. 

“We waited a long time for this team to start winning. That takes away from the joy of finally seeing this team have success on the field,” Philpot said. “Even if I go to a game by myself, you’re still reminded of the fact that, if I had my father-in-law, it would just be this whole exercise all over again.”

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