Wednesday, November 21, 2007
BY DAVE GERSHMAN
The Ann Arbor News
The U.S. Department of Justice entered the legal dispute over handicapped accessibility at Michigan Stadium on Tuesday, asking to join a lawsuit by a paralyzed veterans' group that demands more wheelchair seating at the facility.
Meanwhile, the federal Department of Education quickly rejected a compromise that the University of Michigan filed Monday to add more handicapped seats than it had originally planned for a renovation now under way. Citing a longstanding, unsuccessful debate with U-M, the DOE said Tuesday it has asked the Department of Justice to "initiate judicial proceedings to enforce the rights of the United States'' under provisions of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
A hearing on a Justice Department motion to join a federal lawsuit filed by the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America was scheduled for 10 a.m. today before U.S. District Judge Sean F. Cox in Detroit.
The Justice Department also filed a motion asking for permission to inspect the 80-year-old stadium, where the three-year, $226 million renovation is just getting started.
If the Justice Department is allowed to intervene in the case, an adverse ruling could put the university at risk of losing millions of dollars in federal aid.
Kelly Cunningham, a U-M spokeswoman, said the university is disappointed with the Department of Education's action because U-M had made its compromise proposal this week in good faith to achieve a timely resolution. She said the university has always met the needs of handicapped ticket-holders at Michigan football games, but the DOE disagreed after investigating complaints that date back several years.
"This follows a number of months in which the (DOE) Office for Civil Rights attempted to engage the University of Michigan to voluntarily resolve this matter,'' said Samara Yudof, press secretary at the Department of Education.
The department issued a letter of findings Oct. 26 that outlined violations at the stadium. In its response this week, the university proposed adding 295 more wheelchair seats to the stadium bowl than it initially planned during the renovation. Those seats would be installed on portable platforms at entrance portals around the stadium.
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