July 27, 2006

A Much Needed Suit

We can argue about some of the suits brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act and whether or not they are valid. Some are clearly a racked, intended to make money for professional plaintiffs. But this suit against the University of Houston is not only appropriate, but is designed to overcome discriminatory policies that effectively prevent the disabled from obtaining an education.

After all, how can you possibly justify a policy that allows a professor to reject any accommodations for a student with a handicap?

Gary Bradford, 42, of Baytown, who also suffers from rickets, watched from his wheelchair as his lawyer handed university General Counsel Dona Hamilton a copy of a lawsuit seeking to change a policy that allowed a professor to refuse his request for someone to help him take notes.

The lawsuit asks U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt to strike down a policy that allows professors at the university the choice of whether to comply with special requests for assistance from disabled students.

"We want to teach (professors) that the school writes their paychecks and they are going to have to accommodate students," said Bradford. He is not seeking monetary damages.

The defendants in the lawsuit are the board of regents, several administrators and a professor.

Bradford — who was born without arms, his hands attached to his shoulders — said he is a vocalist and wanted to complete about 20 hours of course work needed for a bachelor's in music.

He enrolled at UH in the Fall of 2005 and the school's Academic Accommodations Evaluations Committee and Center for Students with Disabilities recommended assistance with note-taking and extended time for taking tests, the lawsuit says. Bradford, who uses two sticks to type, should also be allowed to use a computer for essays and essay exams, the school recommended.

Professors in all classes but one allowed a teaching assistant to take notes for Bradford, he said. But the professor who taught a writing-intensive social sciences course that was required for graduation refused to give Bradford her notes or a copy of a slide presentation during a lecture, according to the lawsuit.

The four teaching assistants assigned to the class refused to take notes for Bradford, the lawsuit says.

He appealed to the head of the Educational Psychology Department and was told that the decision whether to accommodate him was left to the professor.

Good grief! Refusing to permit as simple an accommodation as note-taking? Refusing to provide a print-out of a Power-Point presentation? And in the educational psychology department, which I presume is at least loosely affiliated with the College of Education and therefore ought to be especially conscious of legal mandates in education! Such callous disregard for and rejection of such simple accommodations is beyond the pale.

Now I realize that college is different from high school, which is the level on which I teach. But given that professorial workloads are generally significantly lighter than mine, I can see no excuse for this.

Good luck, Mr. bradford. I hope you ask for the professor in question -- and her teaching assistants -- to be drummed out of education. They d not belong.

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