HARRAH, Okla. – A high school coach is taking a stand after years of frustration coming across facilities that can’t accommodate wheelchairs. The amputee is sometimes forced to use a wheelchair, and said there are several schools where he’s run into issues, most recently Harrah High School.
Deion Lewis coaches for several Southeast High School teams, including girls basketball, soccer, and football. Getting his leg amputated in 2015 hasn’t slowed him down.
Last Friday, he was with the girl’s basketball team when they played a game at Harrah High School. But when he arrived, he learned the basketball gym was uniquely structured. The stands are ground level, and the court is in a pit below, accessibly only by stairs. There was no way for him, or anyone with a wheelchair, to get down there.
“‘Is there not an exit from the floor outside? I`m willing to go outside to get in,'” Lewis said. “There was nothing.”
The coach was stuck sitting with the spectators.
“I was on the second level coaching, behind the bench, yelling down to the coaches and the players instructions,” Lewis said.
It’s an issue that affects the game.
“When things go awry, and you get out of a rhythm, it kind of messes with the system that you have set up,” he said.
Unfortunately, over the past four years, it’s a problem he’s encountered at several other facilities, whether it’s getting to the court, the press box, or other areas he needs access to to do his job. He’s hoping from now on it will be considered by all.
“Whether it’s somebody in a wheelchair or not,” Lewis said. “What if the coach had broken his leg and couldn’t get down the stairs. How do you not accommodate people like that?”
News 4 reached out to Harrah Public Schools. The superintendent said in a statement,
“Harrah Public Schools strives to ensure that all patrons visitors have accessibility to all of our functions and facilities. Our gymnasium was built prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act and is not ideal for easily moving fans and patrons from one level of the gym to another. We offer handicap seating to our fans and visitors but that seating is not directly on the court. The district is evaluating its facility and is in the process of ensuring further accommodations to facilitate other special requests when the need arises.”
News 4 also reached out to the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association, which decides the location of the games. A spokesperson said that with hundreds of schools and teams to manage, they don’t always know if a school is fully ADA compliant. He also said had they known there was an issue beforehand, they could have had the game moved to another location.
But Lewis insists it’s something that should be taken into account, both by the OSSAA and by the school in question.
“Even if you don`t want to be ADA compliant and you want to be grandfathered in,” Lewis said, “don`t host a playoff game.”