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Voices of Disability
By Jerry Wolffe
September 5, 2010
The Big House at the University of Michigan, after a three-year legal battle, is completely accessible.
People with disabilities now are able to attend Wolverine games this season without worrying about bathroom access or stopping at the concessions to buy something to eat or drink.
To many, including wheelchair user Mike Harris who was a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit to require U-M to make its stadium accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is a dream come true.
The Wolverines began the 2010 season Saturday by hosting the University of Connecticut.
To attorney Richard Bernstein, who filed the original federal lawsuit in 2007, it was a case that had to be won so stadiums throughout the country would have to follow suit and make their facilities accessible.
To others, such as Magan Mazur, 24, whose brother, Trevor, 15, has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, it is a dream to be realized on some future fall Saturday afternoon.
“I wish all sports stadiums, specifically the University of Michigan’s Big House would allow for more wheelchair accessibility,” Mazur said on learning the U-M Stadium complies with architectural guidelines of the ADA.
“I was a student at the U-M for five years and bringing my family to football games was a great experience for me,” she said.
“It would be an amazing experience if my brother could come with me and be comfortable and feel like he belonged.”
Well, Magan, your brother, who uses a powerchair, will be able to attend any U-M home game of his choice as your companion and buy you a hot dog and drink.
The federal lawsuit required the stadium to add 329 wheelchair spaces and an additional 329 companion seats.
It also was required to make restrooms, ramps, entrances, exits, parking lots and concession stands accessible to those with disabilities.
The university originally argued forcefully against making the required accessibility modifications, saying the $226 million it was spending to add suites was a renovation and not an alteration.
If the changes that were approved June 21, 2007, by U-M’s Board of Regents were determined to be renovation, the ADA would not require the university to make the facility accessible.
However, the court found the millions being spent on expansion and modification was an alteration and the accessibility rules of the ADA must be obeyed.
As of this year, the stadium also has added 135 accessible seats to clubhouses, as well as the wheelchair and companion seats.
“What we got out of it is what we were looking for all along,” said Harris, the executive director of the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America, based in Novi.
“It was to have independent access to the stadium without having to encounter architectural barriers and more wheelchair seats and have them placed through the stadium,” he added.
The ADA requires 1 percent of seats in a stadium to be accessible for people with disabilities. In the former 107,501-seat stadium, that would have been 1,075 accessible seats.
However, Bernstein of Farmington Hills said the plaintiffs agreed to compromise on the number of accessible seats but refused to budge on the accessibility of all relevant areas of the football stadium.
U-M officials were concerned about converting seats into accessible seating because it would mean elimination of some regular seats, leaving about 106,201. However, after the expansion was completed, the stadium accommodates 109,901, allowing it to retain its designation as the largest in the nation.
“If people thought it was good last year, wait until they see how much improved the stadium is this year for people with disabilities,” Bernstein said.
He suggested those with disabilities who always wanted to attend a U-M game should buy tickets, because the stadium is “completely accessible now.”
“I would say it’s the premier sports facility in the world,” he added.
Now if Coach Rich Rodriguez can only improve on the team’s 2009 record of 5-7 overall and 1-7 in the Big Ten to make it more worthwhile to watch the Wolverines in person.
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