Monday, October 29, 2007

I feel squeezed too.

The Department of Education has submitted a report to the university claiming that Michigan Stadium violates ADA requirements. From the Free Press:

The federal department has threatened to terminate federal financial aid funds to the 39,700-student university if U-M doesn't submit a plan within 10 days to correct the numerous violations outlined in the 42-page report dated Oct. 26.

"The university is discriminating against individuals with mobility impairments … because the stadium does not include a sufficient number of accessible seats; the accessible seating is not dispersed so as to provide persons with mobility impairments the same range of seating choices as is provided to persons without disabilities … and the routes, toilet rooms, and concession stands are inaccessible."

Well, yeah, but you know there really hasn't been anything done recently in the form of renovations or modifications to require compliance. Right? I couldn't think of any immediately, but that's probably becuase the changes that occurred aren't really noticable unless you're looking down. Remember the concrete and bench seating replaced?

The report was prompted by several complaints to the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights dating back to 1999. The federal government and U-M reached an agreement in 2000 where U-M agreed that future renovations or alterations at the stadium would include consideration of improving accessible seating.

But the Department of Education reopened the investigation in 2004, when U-M failed to alert them to "several million dollars of construction projects" that meant removing and replacing thousands of bench seats over a period of years at the stadium, the report says.

So, now the stadium has two issues to contend with: 1)the lawsuit commenced to stop the approved addition of the "structures"; and 2) the US Dept Ed. ADA review and its consequences.

The new plan for the pressboxes/skyboxes apparently will provide additional handicapped seating beneath the skyboxes:

Cunningham, the U-M spokeswoman, said the additional wheelchair seating will offer an "excellent unobstructed view of the entire field.'' It will be built under the new premium seating - club seating and luxury boxes - so it is sheltered by an overhanging roof. Wheelchair users will get to the new seating by taking an elevator in the new sideline structure, which will have new and accessible concessions areas and bathrooms.

As I understand the ADA position, it relates to the existing bowl, not the addition of the "structures". The 2000 agreement required the U to comply with the ADA for future renovations or alterations. The ADA basically is claiming that the work on the stadium in the last few years is a renovation or alteration which would have required the stadium to be ADA compliant. I haven't read any of the report, but it's likely they claim that as sections were rebuilt they should have brought to current ADA standards; ie. there should be a number of accessible seats in my section, or near it.

On the other hand, Bernstein, I think, is saying that the addition of boxes etc, is a renovation to the entire stadium, and that it therefore should require accessible seating throughout the bowl. In different sections, different angles of view, and different licensing fee availability.

But, here's a quote I found in the about Bernstein's suit from a student. I have no doubt that this student should be given accessible seating. I'm sure she deserves it. But, her comment identifies the exact same situation the rest of experience at any game other than Eastern MI:
Sarah Watkins, a U-M senior from Grand Rapids who uses a wheelchair, said she bought season tickets for three years but stopped this year. At some games, she said, the seating was full and she felt squeezed in with many other wheelchair users. "I spent three years with tickets and I wasn't able to sit with my friends,'' she said.

Sarah, I am sorry that you are disabled. You've probably done a marvelous job overcoming a variety of issues stemming from your disability, and I hope you continue, including to graduate from the University of Michigan and lead a productive life. But, WE ARE ALL SQUEEZED AT MICHIGAN STADIUM! You are not being treated differently, you are being treated the same. And, you know that section and row number on our tickets, they also prevent me from sitting with my friends.