Archive for Thursday, November 19, 1998

COMPLAINT ON HANDICAPPED PARKING LEADS TO SPACE SHUFFLING

November 19, 1998

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A complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services led to some surprising changes in disabled parking near Allen Fieldhouse.

The handicapped-parking situation at Kansas University basketball games has once again become a hot-button issue on campus.

This year's debate stems from KU's decision -- in the wake of an inspection by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services -- to stop letting vehicles for the disabled park in 50 regular spaces in the parking garage north of Allen Fieldhouse.

Previously, 58 spaces on the first level were used for drivers or passengers with disabilities. Only eight are officially marked and measured as handicapped spaces.

"We knew that those spaces were not up to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) code, per se," said Don Kearns, KU director of parking services. "But we thought we were providing a pretty good deal."

Someone disagreed.

A complaint filed with the Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights in March alleged KU was not providing adequate parking for the disabled at Allen Fieldhouse and Memorial Stadium, and that parking fees were charged in a discriminatory manner.

The $6 fee, charged to everyone parking in the garage or in nearby lots, was the impetus for last year's controversy. The fee was eliminated last year before being reinstated this season.

The complaint led to a June inspection that, ironically, forced KU to quit designating the bulk of the garage spaces for fans with disabilities and to come up with an alternate plan for accommodating them. The fee, in contrast, was deemed appropriate.

Rose Marino, KU associate general counsel, said federal regulations do not allow universities or other entities to temporarily set aside regular parking spaces for the disabled.

"There's no flexibility on that," Marino said. "We're really not bad guys ... we tried. We just got caught in the middle."

Rather than reconfigure the entire first level of the garage, KU designated 19 spaces south of the fieldhouse and 12 spaces northwest of the building for use by people with disabilities.

Also this year, a new elevator tower began operating at the south end of the building, and KU began offering a $3 shuttle service for those who use wheelchairs. The service runs from the lot near the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art to the south entrance of the fieldhouse.

A number of individuals have contacted the Journal-World and KU recently to complain about the handicapped parking situation, in particular that the new outdoor parking and subsequent risk of exposure to harsh weather have motivated some to stop going to games altogether. None would speak for the record.

Mike Shuttic, chairman of KU's Architectural Barriers Committee and associate director of the KU Office of Services for Students with Disabilities, said the recent moves should not be viewed as a conspiracy to push drivers with disabilities out of the garage.

"It doesn't appear to be an independent targeting of a group," Shuttic said.

Roger Murphy, spokesman for the Health and Human Services department, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

-- Matt Gowen's phone message number is 832-7222. His e-mail address is mgowen@ljworld.com.

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