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Detroit Free Press
Justice Department to look at accessibility
By Chastity Pratt Dawsey, Free Press Education Writer
November 22, 2007
A team of investigators from the U.S. Department of Justice will get to look over the University of Michigan's football stadium starting next week to see whether the Big House complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
U.S. District Judge Sean Cox ordered U-M on Wednesday to allow federal investigators access to the stadium. The order came one day after the Justice Department filed a motion to get involved in a legal battle about wheelchair accessibility.
The stadium -- the nation's largest with 107,501 seats -- is undergoing a $226-million renovation and expansion project that should be completed by 2010 and would grow seating to 108,000.
The Michigan chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America is suing U-M to try to force the school to create 1,080 wheelchair accessible seats, up from about 90, as well as accessible restrooms. U-M has proposed accessibility to 592 seats. The two sides are at odds over whether the construction is significant enough to trigger the federal requirement that 1% of the 108,000 seats be wheelchair accessible.
The court order comes one month after the U.S. Department of Education accused U-M of thwarting its efforts to investigate whether the stadium complies with the ADA.
The Justice Department's involvement adds legal manpower and resources to the veterans' case.
"It provides resources that we normally wouldn't have," said Michael Harris, executive director of the veterans group.
U-M officials must allow the investigators to look at the Big House for a minimum of five days or face possible penalties for contempt of court.
Kelly Cunningham, a U-M spokeswoman, said the school did not hinder the Education Department's investigation and gladly agreed to the Justice Department's site visit.
"We promised our full cooperation and support, and we're happy to accommodate," she said Wednesday.
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