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By Jerry Wolffe
March 11, 2008
Getting into Michigan Stadium to watch the Wolverines play college football soon won't be a big deal for disabled fans.
U.S. District Judge Sean Cox Monday signed a 30-page consent decree that "serves as an agreement between the United States Department of Justice, the University of Michigan and the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America in a case dealing with accessibility of U-M's football stadium."
Under the agreement, Michigan will add hundreds of wheelchair seats to "The Big House" and make $2 million worth of other changes to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act so the largest college football stadium in the country is accessible for disabled people, said Gloria Hage, interim vice president and general counsel for the 40,000-student university in Ann Arbor.
"This was a voluntary resolution between the three parties," she said. "The Justice department intervened in the spirit of compromise and all three of us approached in that spirit."
Before the discrimination lawsuit was filed April 17, Michigan Stadium had 88 wheelchair seats, far fewer than required by law.
Hage said there will be 329 wheelchair seats throughout the stadium by 2010 and an additional 135 accessible seats in clubhouses being built as part of a $226 million renovation.
The attorney for plaintiff Mike Harris, executive director of the Michigan Paralyzed Association of America, based in Novi, was thrilled.
"This case is critical because it defines the right of a disabled person to have equal access to places of public venue all across America," said attorney Richard Bernstein, of Farmington Hills, who filed the discrimination suit on behalf of the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans.
The Justice Department will monitor U-M's progress in making the stadium accessible for five years, Bernstein said.
"We're talking about reserved parking for the disabled, drop-off points, resurfacing lots, bridges to be installed on walkways if they are too steep, accessible bathrooms and concession stands and even disability etiquette training of staff," he said.
Harris also was satisfied.
"What we got out of it is what we were looking for all along," Harris said. "It was to have independent access to the stadium without having to encounter architectural barriers, more wheelchair seats and have them placed throughout the stadium.
"The beauty of the agreement is that it will become a blueprint that other universities around the country can duplicate to provide overall accessibility to the disabled," he said.
"You know, you go into cases and never know what the outcome may be," he said. "This is an outstanding agreement. If someone had told me on day one that this is what we would have achieved, I would have been ecstatic."
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