Last week, the University announced that the Athletic Department plans to add at least 14 wheelchair-accessible seats to the Big House for next season. While the University claims that the Athletic Department made the decision based on “an ongoing evaluation of fan needs,” the announcement’s timing makes its intention easy to question. The Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America recently sued the University because the proposed renovations to Michigan Stadium do not comply with the American with Disabilities Act 1990. The announcement of the addition of 14 wheelchair-accessible seats reflects either the University’s ambivalence to the MPVA’s concerns or a very poor effort to pacify the many critics of the stadium renovation plan. Either way, the University just doesn’t get it.
The ADA requires public facilities like the Big House to have at least 1 percent of the seating reserved for disabled fans, while providing a variety of seating options. The Big House was exempted from the ADA’s purview until now because it was constructed before the act was passed, but the MPVA claims that once the University decides to go ahead with the proposed changes to the stadium, it would have to comply with the act. The University, in an asinine game of semantics, says the proposed changes are “repairs” and not “renovations” in an effort to skirt ADA regulations.
Richard Bernstein, the attorney for MPVA and a political science professor at the University, blasted last week’s announcement of 14 additional wheelchair-accessible seats as “a joke” and criticized the University for approaching the issue with “a level of arrogance never seen before.” While the University maintains that the timing and content of last week’s announcement was not related to the lawsuit, one cannot help but think that it was merely a half-baked publicity stunt.
This could as well be a conciliatory gesture toward the MPVA, but if that is what it is, then it’s a toothless and disingenuous move on the part of the University. The MPVA is not buying it, and neither would any sane person who realizes that 14 seats don’t mean a thing when the University is still 793 seats away from compliance with federal law. In a stadium that regularly seats 110,000 people, it’s hardly unreasonable that 1,000 of the seats be wheelchair accessible.
From the sellout of tradition that was the decision to add skyboxes to the Big House to blatant denial of the ADA, the University has handled stadium renovations with all the tact of a stubborn 3-year-old who will say and do anything to get his way. That’s not healthy for an institution that prides itself in its diversity and spirit of acceptance. Issues like these cannot be resolved with strong-arming, artificial gestures and ridiculous pacifiers. The solution needs to have a conscious thought process behind it. It needs to be a result of collaboration, not compromise. It needs to meet the requirements of federal law.