Deaf Students Sue Utah State U. Over Lack of Interpreters

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed May 10 13:25:07 UTC 2006
Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Deaf Students Sue Utah State U. Over Lack of Adequate Sign-Language


Twelve current and former students who are deaf have sued Utah State
University, accusing the institution of violating the Americans With
Disabilities Act by failing to provide them with adequate sign-language
interpreters and other services. The lawsuit, filed on Monday in the U.S.
District Court in Salt Lake City, says that the university denies deaf
students equal access to educational opportunities, fails to provide
services in a timely manner, and discriminates against those students. The
plaintiffs are asking Judge J. Thomas Greene to certify the lawsuit as a
class action, on behalf of all past, current, and future Utah State
University students who are deaf. In addition to requesting that the
university institute new policies to better serve deaf students, the
plaintiffs are seeking unspecified monetary damages.

The Utah State Board of Regents, the state's higher-education governing
body, also is named as a defendant in the lawsuit. Eleven deaf students
attended Utah State, in Logan, during the just-completed spring semester.
Fifteen were enrolled during the fall term. Dale H. Boam, the plaintiffs'
lawyer, said students had been unable to enroll in needed classes because
of a lack of interpreters. Some students had delayed graduation in order
to complete necessary course work, while others, including three this
academic year, transferred. The students complained that some
interpreters' sign-language skills were insufficient for more-complicated
academic work, Mr. Boam said, citing an instance in which an interpreter
with the lowest level of state certification was assigned to a deaf
graduate student who was defending his thesis.

Negotiations between the students and Utah State officials broke down this
spring. "This is a problem. They've known about it for years, and they
need to fix it," Mr. Boam said. "The students are tired of promises that
aren't being kept." Diane C. Baum, director of Utah State's Disability
Resource Center, said university officials had been trying to fill
interpreter positions, with little success. The university recently hired
two full-time interpreters but, despite national searches, had made little
headway in recruiting other qualified staff members, Ms. Baum said. (Utah
State previously used part-time workers.) "It's not that we don't care
about deaf students or their education," Ms.  Baum said. "The supply just
isn't keeping up with the demand. It's a national problem."

Ms. Baum said she also was considering purchasing technology that would
allow a student to watch an out-of-state interpreter on a computer screen
while in class. The University of California system settled a similar
lawsuit in 2002 by agreeing to give deaf students on its Berkeley and
Davis campuses more control over the type of equipment and interpretation
services they received (The Chronicle, November 22, 2002).

Copyright  2006 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

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