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University of Michigan Adds 14 Wheelchair Accessible Seats to Their Stadium

I've always been a big fan of the University of Michigan, not the football team, but the university in general. They've gone to the mat in favor of affirmative action and they've developed a world-class educational facility. Their sports teams are nothing to snicker at either, even if I am a Penn State fan.

However, the University of Michigan lost points with me this week when they announced they were adding 14 seats for wheelchairs to their stadium. So you may be wondering why I'm upset about them adding seats.

They are adding 14 seats which brings their grand total to 104. All 90 seats currently are in the end zone, traditionally known as the cheap seats in football. The 14 seats they are adding is because they were sued. The way the Americans with disabilities act reads is that when a building undergoes major renovations those renovations are required to increase accessibility.

The university is claiming that the renovations were actually just repairs because it didn't add any new seats to the stadium. I don't buy this considering that their own website focuses on the history of the stadium and how it's grown over the years.

Link: University of Michigan Stadium History


Prior to the current renovation there were two major renovations since 1990, when the Americans with disabilities act became law. In a 1991 and 1997 they raised seating capacity. The most recent renovation didn't increase seating capacity.

The university is claiming hardship because they are losing 168 seats and are to accommodate the 14 seats being added. However, seats aren't nearly as big of a deal as they would have you believe because while there are only 107,000 seats in the stadium, the average attendance is over 111,000. That means 4000 people are standing during each game, so my guess is 150 won't make much of a difference.

Furthermore, the ultimate point is that the stadium has 107,000 seats, that means there is less than one seat per thousand visitors that is accessible by wheelchair. And those that are accessible are, to say as politely as I can, crappy.

I just hope when Joe Paterno was coaching from his wheelchair that Michigan allows him to be on the field! Especially because I know he'll be sitting down and start kicking your butt.

By the way, if you'd like to put your complaint in writing, I'd encourage you to e-mail or mail in office of athletics at the University of Michigan. And simply explain to them that roughly 2% of the population is severely physically disabled, and they are only providing seats for 0.1% of their fans.

Furthermore, while they may say they are losing 168 seats, the reality is that if a wheelchair user doesn't need those seats they won't go to waste because you can place several folding chairs. I've experienced on many occasions sitting in my wheelchair accessible seat and my wife must sit behind me in a folding chair. They constantly oversell wheelchair seating in these arenas.

One more point and then I'll go. The university recently spent millions of dollars on luxury boxes. I'm uncertain how wheelchair accessible these luxury boxes are, but if they are accessible I'll be happy to take tickets in those boxes instead. It will be a great place to watch Penn State when they are in town!

Update: I decided to send an e-mail. Here's the text of the e-mail I sent. Let's hope they respond.

I understand that the university is adding more seating to the stadium to make it wheelchair accessible. The reports I heard is that the grand total of accessible seats will be 104.

From what I understand, currently 90 seats exist an all 90 are in the end zones.

I think it's a shame that a university with a strong reputation for multiculturalism, advocacy for affirmative action, and world-class thinking when it comes to inclusion of all races, faiths, nationalities, and genders would allow such a travesty to occur when it comes to your disabled population.

The severely physically disabled population is approximately 2% in the United States, 1% of using wheelchairs. The average wheelchair user travels with two companions, which means that approximately 3% of your fan base would utilize the wheelchair accessible seating area. Unfortunately, after your renovations are complete, your stadium will be able to accommodate wheelchair users with less than 0.1% of your seating capacity.

I understand it wheelchair accessible seats take up more space than traditional seating. However, I think you'll find that you're not losing much seating because if the seats are not claimed by wheelchair users several folding chairs can be placed in those areas. If they are used by wheelchair users and their families, then it is clear that you needed the seating after all.

Finally, the average attendance at your games exceeds 111,000, where, to my knowledge you only have 107,000 seats. This makes it clear that you aren't opposed to selling "standing room" seating and your fans apparently are loyal enough to utilize them.

I also understand that you are creating luxury boxes. Will these luxury boxes be wheelchair accessible? If they are wheelchair accessible, maybe you could dedicate one luxury box exclusively to single ticket wheelchair users. I realize the economic implications of this, however ask the individuals in their wheelchairs about the implications of not being permitted to watch a football game at the University of Michigan.

The University of Michigan makes millions of dollars based on the talent of unpaid players. I hope that the University of Michigan is willing to sacrifice a little of that money resulting from ticket sales to become a leader in inclusive sports spectatorship.

My very best,

Jason Tweed

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