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But lawyer for vets who sued over stadium access says it's not enough.
November 20, 2007
Following pressure from disabled veterans, faculty and the U.S. government, the University of Michigan proposed a plan Monday for a six-fold increase to the number of wheelchair-accessible seats in Michigan Stadium.
It was unclear Monday whether the federal government would accept the offer to boost the number of seats for disabled patrons from 90 to 592 by 2010, as officials were still reviewing the letter. But the disabled veterans who sued the university over accessibility concerns say U-M didn't go far enough, and that they would push forward with their lawsuit.
"It's unacceptable," said Richard Bernstein, attorney for the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America.
U-M remained steadfast that the Big House does not violate federal accessibility laws but submitted the plan as a compromise to avoid a lawsuit with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Under the proposal, U-M would add portable platforms around the stadium that could be removed on a seasonal basis depending on demand, according to the letter U-M submitted Monday to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.
At minimum, 1 percent of all seats -- or 1,070 seats -- need to be wheelchair seats to meet the requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, Bernstein said.
By dodging the 1 percent federal law, Bernstein said U-M is attempting to create its own standard.
That's comparable to "building your own building and creating your own fire code," Bernstein said. "And that's what the university is saying: Trust us."
U-M extended the olive branch following a report by the Office for Civil Rights that found Michigan Stadium violated federal accessibility laws because it doesn't provide enough wheelchair seating for disabled patrons and the stadium lacks sufficiently accessible bathrooms and ramps.
The department has threatened denial of federal funds or a lawsuit by U.S. Department of Justice if U-M didn't comply.
U-M "strongly disputes the findings and legal conclusions" of the federal report and maintains "it is in full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act," according to U-M's Monday letter.
Michigan Stadium was built in 1927 -- long before passage of the federal ADA in 1990. However, when the stadium is altered, federal guidelines require that U-M bring it up to code.
The disabled vets and the Office for Civil Rights say U-M has reconstructed almost the entire seating bowl, which forces the university to comply with the ADA requirement that 1 percent of all seating be handicapped-accessible.
Gloria Hage, interim general counsel at U-M, said the law in question calls for 1 percent of all seats or the maximum number of seats that's structurally feasible. The wheelchair platforms can only fit at the portal level around the stadium based on the Big House's structure, she said.
"You are getting every single accessible seat in the bowl," Hage said Monday.
Aside from the portable platforms that will fit 295 accessible seats, U-M said it would add 207 additional wheelchair seats in its new expansion project, which includes the addition of luxury boxes.
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