|(U-WIRE) BERKELEY, Calif. -- UC Berkeley -- the
first campus in the nation to offer services to disabled students -- discriminates against
students who are hearing-impaired, according to students who yesterday filed a federal
discrimination lawsuit against the university.
Citing inadequate services for students with hearing
disabilities, the Employment Law Center and Legal Aid Society of San Francisco along with
a San Francisco law firm filed the class action lawsuit against the university on behalf
of the three UC Berkeley students.
The suit, which alleges UC Berkeley's failure to
comply with regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, was presented at a San
Francisco press conference yesterday.
As the institution whose initiative to create a
disabled service program in the 1960s led universities across the nation to do the same,
UC Berkeley has failed to provide sufficient interpreter services for hearing-impaired
students, the plaintiffs alleged.
The university's Disabled Students Program is
providing no services when asked or providing inadequate services to the hearing-impaired,
said attorney Noah Lebowitz.
"This completely interferes with their ability
to complete their education," he said
The suit names as defendants the UC Board of
Regents, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl and UC Berkeley.
UC Berkeley's Disabled Students Programs provide
interpreters for students such as undergraduate Shazia Siddiqi, a plaintiff in the case
who is taking pre-med courses at UC Berkeley. But these interpreters often lack the
training to provide sufficient sign-language interpretation in such technical classes,
according to lawyers.
The insufficient accommodations have generated
unjust educational opportunities for hearing-impaired students and the immense difficulty
has caused students, including former Boalt law student Emily Alexander, another plaintiff
in the case, to forgo their educations.
"You show up for class, and there isn't an
interpreter there for you, and then you don't know what's going on," said Janine
Kramer, a plaintiff and Boalt law student, according to a statement. "I don't
understand why they do that. It's been very hard for us to go to school under those
Although they have already attempted to voice their
concerns to the UC regents through written correspondence, complaints have not been
addressed, Lebowitz said. Filing the lawsuit was a "last ditch," he added.
"They go to the university and say we are not
getting these services and they're just basically being blown off," he said. "We
have never gotten any response other than a complete denial of any wrongdoing. We have
been completely stonewalled from them. We've tried every angle but filing the
But university officials maintained yesterday that
they adequately fulfill the UC system's mission to provide fair educational opportunities
for students of all backgrounds.
"The Berkeley campus works very hard to
provide appropriate accommodations for students," said UC spokesperson Charles
McFadden. "We believe (the university) succeeds in accommodating the special needs of
all of our students."
In a statement, Ed Rogers, manager of UC Berkeley's
Disabled Students Program, said that although he intends to examine the allegations
against the university, he continues to believe that the campus is in full compliance with
the law in terms of services for disabled students.
"I am concerned about the complaints, and we
are looking into them," he said. "At UC Berkeley, not only do we meet or exceed
the letter of the law, we embrace the spirit of the law. This campus has long had a record
of supporting the needs of the disabled with a program of services dating back to