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March 8, 1999 - March 21, 1999
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Disabled Students Serve Berkeley
With Bias Suit

 

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By Bernice Ng
Daily Californian
UC Berkeley
U-Wire
Published Mar. 8, 1999

 

(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 conditions."

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 lawsuit."

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 1956."

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