Reposted from an online storyBy Collin Binkley
In The Columbus Dispatch
Miami University has failed to accommodate students with disabilities and provide them the technology they need to learn, the U.S. Department of Justice reported this week.
The department joined an existing lawsuit filed against Miami by a blind student who said the school promised to accommodate her but failed to deliver.
Student Aleeha Dudley, 21, who has since withdrawn from Miami, said the school gave her textbooks and assignments in a format that doesn’t work with the technology that allows her and other blind people to read.
After Dudley filed her federal lawsuit in January 2014, the Justice Department investigated and concluded that Miami had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The department also is working with both sides to reach a resolution out of court.
Miami denies the allegations, according to a statement provided by a school spokeswoman.
“We take our obligations under the American Disabilities Act very seriously. Miami provides extensive resources and accommodations for our disabled students, and will continue to do so.”
While Dudley’s lawsuit accuses the school of discriminating against her, the Justice Department widened the accusation to say Miami failed to help other past and current students.
“Students with disabilities have withdrawn from courses and majors, or have withdrawn from Miami University altogether, because Miami University provided inaccessible materials and used inaccessible technologies,” attorneys for the Justice Department wrote in their court filing.
Dudley, of New Paris in western Ohio, enrolled at Miami in 2011 to study zoology and become a veterinarian. Before applying, she met with Miami officials who promised to provide the right tools and services she needs for her education, Dudley alleged in her lawsuit.
To read, Dudley uses a “screen reader” –– software that can translate computer text to speech or send it to a device that translates it to Braille, a tactile writing system. Miami gave her scanned copies of textbooks, according to her lawsuit, but they weren’t compatible with the screen reader. It made the text appear out of order and omitted images and charts.
In some classes, Dudley was required to submit assignments using online software that didn’t work with screen readers. She failed one biology assignment because she couldn’t access a chart that was necessary to complete the work, according to her lawsuit. Her grade-point average at Miami was 2.6 in 2011. She graduated high school with a 3.6 GPA and won a scholarship from Miami.
The Ohio Disability Rights Law and Policy Center, a nonprofit advocacy group in Columbus, is representing Dudley. Instead of providing her the same education as her peers, the lawsuit said, Miami provided a “nightmarish experience of failed and broken promises.”
The problems alleged at Miami are widespread in higher education, said Kerstin Sjoberg-Witt, director of advocacy for Ohio Disability Rights and the group’s assistant executive director. She hopes the Department of Justice’s support spurs other schools to follow the law, she said.
In another case at Miami, the school showed a course-related video to a student with a visual impairment, but the video had no audio descriptions, according to the justice department filing. It took the university days to provide an updated video that included audio.
Miami gave a deaf student audio-visual materials that had inaccurate captioning or none at all, the filing said.
A statement from the department said education is “said to be the great equalizer of American society.”
“However, students with disabilities continue to encounter an impenetrable glass ceiling of opportunity when schools fail to comply with the ADA,” Vanita Gupta principal deputy assistant attorney general of the department’s Civil Rights Division, said in the statement.
The department’s legal complaint demands that Miami provide the right accommodations to students with disabilities, and to pay damages to those harmed by its practices.