More seats for handicapped

BY ARIKIA MILLIKAN
Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 27, 2007

Come next season, at least 14 disabled fans will have a better view of football games at Michigan Stadium.

University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham said the the Athletic Department plans to add at least 14 wheelchair-accessible seats parallel to the sidelines after this season.

The Athletic Department made the decision to add the seats based on an ongoing evaluation of fan needs, Cunningham said. Some disabled fans have criticized placing of all wheelchair-accessible seats in the endzones, which most fans say afford poorer views of the game, and they've requested seats in other parts of the stadium.

The announcement comes amid a lawsuit by the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America that argues that the planned renovations to Michigan Stadium do not provide the number of wheelchair-accessible seats mandated by the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The planned renovations will add two structures containing luxury boxes and premium seating to the sidelines at the top of the bowl. The project will also add new concessions and restrooms to the main concourse and widen bleacher seats and aisles in the seating bowl.

Earlier this week, MPVA attorney Richard Bernstein filed documents in federal district court requesting depositions from University employees including President Mary Sue Coleman, all eight members of the University Board of Regents and six Athletic Department employees. Bernstein also requested all information concerning the stadium's operations and maintenance since 1990.

Cunningham said the timing and content of the Athletic Department's announcement was not related to the lawsuit. She said the plan is not part of the $226 renovation project approved by the University Board of Regents in June, meaning the plans don't have to be reworked to accommodate the new seats.

"It's not specifically related to the lawsuit, but the MPVA did raise the issue of additional dispersed seating," she said.

Bernstein called the decision to add 14 additional seats "a joke" and said it would not encourage his clients to drop the case.

"It's really remarkable that they go and hold a press conference to say they're going to add fourteen seats when the law requires over a thousand," Bernstein said. "They're approaching this with a level of arrogance that I've never seen before."

Cunningham said the Athletic Department hasn't decided exactly where to place the new wheelchair-accessible seats. They will have to be located on the concourse level near an entrance portal because it's "structurally impossible" to add seats above or below concourse level, she said.

Because 12 bleacher seats must be removed for every wheelchair-accessible seat installed in the bowl, at least 168 fans with bleacher seat tickets must be relocated. Cunningham said the Athletic Department won't know how many ticketholders will have to move until the location of the accessible seats is decided.