The clock had struck 1:35 p.m. central time and a voice shouted over the loudspeaker, “5 minutes until totality!”

I joined the millions gathered in locations across the United States to witness the Total Solar Eclipse, a cosmic phenomena that will not reappear within the 48 contiguous states for some 20 years. With that in mind, I decided not to miss this year’s opportunity and asked readers of this newsletter to select my viewing location. A plurality of you, some 39%, voted to send me to Texas — and, despite the weather forecast being so poor that Neil deGrasse Tyson pulled out of the watch party at the historic Cotton Bowl stadium in downtown Dallas at the last minute, the clouds did part and an incredible experience was enjoyed by all — or rather, by most.

That 5-minute countdown was a message of urgency for me and other wheelchair users at the “Sun, Moon, and You” event hosted by NASA, NOAA, and the National Science Foundation. You see, since about t-minus 20 minutes, when I realized that the sun would not move within view of my seat, I had been speaking with event staff and NASA exhibitors to solve a problem that came as a huge surprise — that there would be no view of the sun (or the eclipse) from any of the ADA accessible seating areas at the stadium.

Wheelchair seating spaces in stadium with overhang that blocks view of sky.

Similar to what infuriates me about many sports stadiums, including those of baseball’s Milwaukee Brewers and Minnesota Twins, wheelchair seating at the Cotton Bowl was located underneath the overhang of the upper deck. Recessed accessible seating, located in the last row of or behind/separated from sections, partially blocks the view of disabled fans — whether it be the sight of a fly ball, field goal or, in this case, the eclipsed sun!

I entered the stadium around 10 a.m., nearly 4 hours before totality, and immediately wondered if the upper deck overhang might block my view — but, since the event was organized by NASA (literally an organization of astrophysicists and rocket scientists who know the position of the earth, sun and moon), I thought they must surely have done the calculations to verify that the sun would move within view by the time of totality. The NASA team probably did do some calculations, but they either didn’t include the characteristics of the ADA accessible seats in that equation or they’re really bad at math (I suspect the former is most likely).

With 20 minutes to go, then 5, it had become clear to me that disabled folks were not part of that equation. Manual wheelchair users started crawling on the ground to access bleacher seats with an unobstructed view in the stadium bowl. I watched as a woman tilted her grandmother back in her wheelchair, then resorted to carrying her down the steps into the bleachers. I was shocked, to be honest, even though a lack of access is so often par for the course.

John seated in his wheelchair in a tunnel leading out onto the upper deck of seats at a stadium.

With assistance from friends and family members, most wheelchair users were able to climb down onto the bleachers, while others chose to leave the stadium for a clear view from the outside. As the only power wheelchair user in attendance, my options were more limited and with just 5 minutes left, I rushed up the steep pedestrian ramps to the stadium’s upper deck. No accessible seats are located there, but I was able to roll through a tunnel and park my wheelchair (somewhat precariously) at the edge of the steps. It gave me, for the first time that day, a view of the sun and, ultimately, the total solar eclipse.

Hand of ASL interpreter cut off on video board.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned here, but two really stand out to me. First off, disabled people can’t be relegated to the worst seats in a stadium or even in a section of a stadium. Why are our views impeded? Why are our seats almost always in the last row? Stadiums must be better designed to prioritize wheelchair accessibility. Second, NASA needed to consult with an accessibility expert in preparation for this event. Had they hired me, wheelchair users would have enjoyed an unobstructed sight line from the field level (which was restricted to school groups, media and dignitaries), and they most certainly wouldn’t have cut off the hands of the ASL interpreter on the northwest video board (hard to believe that was not corrected)!

When I raised some of these issues at the event, an exhibitor said “well, the stadium is 100 years old.” My quick retort was to point out that the Cotton Bowl had been renovated twice in the era of the ADA, in 1993 and 2008. It will soon undergo a major $140 million renovation — it’s critical that disabled people be involved in that work.

The Total Solar Eclipse was not overrated

The Total Solar Eclipse proved to be not quite what I expected, but the unique phenomenon did not disappoint.

I came to Dallas expecting that total darkness would envelop the sky — many of the most popular eclipse photos bring out the light of the sun’s corona by reducing the brightness of the surrounding sky, which left me with a false expectation about what I would see with my own eyes. While darkness did descend on Dallas, the sky resembled dusk rather than the middle of night.

Eclipsed sun over stadium with stars visible in an early night like sky.

Although there was undoubtedly a drop in temperature, it was not an extreme one, and the warm rays of sunlight returned after just four minutes of totality. There were no wild reactions from animals (though I was inside a football stadium, rather than a forest), but that did not make the experience any less special.

The opportunity to observe the changes on earth while partially shielded from the sun isn’t something that can be conveyed in photographs — not even those from professional photographers.

Like many of you, I had seen plenty of pictures from prior eclipses, but seeing this one with my own eyes is something I liken to a child visiting Walt Disney World for the first time. Seeing Cinderella, Mickey Mouse or Buzz Lightyear on the movie screen is no doubt a cool experience for kids, but meeting the characters in the flesh at a theme park is no doubt more impactful. It’s special to see and touch that which is real, rather than to settle for a digital representation of it.

View of the moon in front of the sun against a black background.

Since I’m not a pro photographer and only brought my iPhone to the party, I limited my picture-taking to just a few (admittedly poor) pictures, quickly turning to enjoy those four precious minutes of totality with focus and attention. Four minutes is such a short period of time. It’s humbling to think, no matter how badly I want to revisit that experience, it won’t be accessible to me for another 20 years (in the United States, anyway — the next total solar eclipse will be visible from portions of Greenland, Iceland, Portugal, Spain and Russia on August 12, 2026).

Here’s hoping NASA will have a better plan for accessibility on August 12, 2045, when a Total Solar Eclipse will cross the United States, starting in California and ending at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

This article was published as part of an edition of the Wheelchair Travel Newsletter. To get accessible travel stories like this sent to your inbox, please subscribe to Wheelchair Travel on Substack.

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