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Detroit Free Press
'We are committed to ... accessible seating'
By Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki, Free Press Education Writer
November 7, 2007
The University of Michigan has rejected a federal claim that Michigan Stadium violates the law by not being adequately accessible to people with disabilities.
In its response Monday to the findings issued Oct. 26 by the U.S. Department of Education's office of civil rights, U-M said the 80-year-old stadium satisfied federal accessibility standards for construction before the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the planned expansion will comply with the current standards.
"There are two things going on in the stadium. One is the expansion project and it is new construction. It exceeds ADA standards," Kelly Cunningham, university spokeswoman, said Tuesday. "The other is the repair of concrete in the bowl, and that is the subject of the letter" sent by the civil rights office.
U-M contends the law only requires compliance with ADA standards in construction done after the law went into effect, and not for repair work.
"This is about access for the disabled in a very old stadium and the stadium has structural limitations. But we are committed to providing and exceeding the demand for accessible seating," she said.
The rights office findings indicated U-M risks losing as much as $850 million in federal funding if its stadium is out of compliance.
A group suing the university claims the stadium does not have enough appropriate seating, restrooms and parking, and the ramps leading into the stadium are dangerous because they're too steep. It also questions whether the stadium will be ADA-compliant after the expansion.
"Ultimately the president and the regents of the University of Michigan are acting at this point out of a policy of hubris," said Richard Bernstein, an attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Michigan chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
Bernstein said the U.S. Department of Education writes the rules, and therefore is in a better position than U-M to say what the rules mean. He predicted the federal government is likely to intervene on his side in the lawsuit.
"The stakes go far beyond a football stadium," Bernstein said. "If this goes unchallenged and they get away with what they're doing, they will truly devastate the disabled persons act.
"It goes to the quality of life for disabled people all across the country," Bernstein said.
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