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The dispute between advocates for some disabled rights groups and Detroit Metropolitan Airport officials over a curbside access drop-off policy for that community now has both sides claiming he Federal Aviation Administration supports them.

Elizabeth Newman, a senior attorney for the FAA, wrote a letter to attorneys for both sides this week, saying, “The FAA Office of Civil Rights will not make a final determination of the airport authority’s accommodation policy pertaining to the bus stops that is presently before the federal court until the litigation is concluded.”

At issues is Metro’s plan to give travelers with disabilities closer, curbside access while those passengers are dropped off and picked up from public buses and vans. Advocates for those with disabilities contend that all passengers using commercial and public buses and vans should use the same stops because doing otherwise would prompt resentment and unfairly single out those with disabilities. Airport officials deny this and say that the disabled travelers would have more choices and wouldn’t have to reveal their disability.

Jason Turkish, who represents the disabled community along with the Michigan Flyer shuttle service that catersdisabled travelers from Ann Arbor and East Lansing, said the email from the FAA shows the airport cannot lean on the federal government to justify the proposed policy.

“The airport was already on an island. What they were already suggesting was to have the first segregated bus stop in United States,” Turkish said. “And they were claiming that they had the support of the federal government, which now they’ve lost. Their whole argument in court was that this had the blessing of the FAA, which has turned out not to be true.”

Airport officials say that their efforts will help the disabled and not harm them and that the FAA supports their policies.

“Our proposed procedures reflect our ongoing efforts to provide best-in-class experiences for all of our 33 million Detroit Metropolitan Airport customers, including those with disabilities,” airport spokeswoman Erica Donerson said in a statement. “We respect the fact the FAA has chosen not to make a final written determination concerning the procedures until the litigation in federal court has concluded. We can tell you that as recently as a few days ago, FAA representatives told us they do not have a concern with our proposed ground transportation procedures and the procedures do not represent segregation.”

U.S. District Court Judge Victoria Roberts is weighing whether to grant a temporary restraining order on the airport to stop the policy change. Under the airport’s latest proposal, those with special needs at the McNamara Terminal would be picked up at door 402 of the ground transportation center and dropped off at the departures level curb. The judge has asked to see the specific plan, which could be filed to her by March 28, before issuing a ruling.

Lisa Franklin, the president and founder of Warriors On Wheels, which advocates for the disabled community, initially supported the airport’s policy change but became concerned about how it was being handled by airport officials.

“Without our permission, Detroit Metro officials told members of the airport authority board that we were supportive of their plan, even going so far as to include us in their PowerPoint presentation” at last week’s authority board meeting, Franklin said. “We are vehemently opposed to this plan, which attempts to subject persons with disabilities to discriminatory practices.”

lfleming@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2620

Twitter: @leonardnfleming

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