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Discrimination lawsuit hits Miami University

Victoria Slater, Campus Editor

A student who is blind is suing Miami University for alleged discrimination over her disability. In the lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, junior zoology major Aleeha Dudley claimed the university has not provided adequate accessibility to assist her in succeeding as a student. 

According to the lawsuit filed Jan. 10, Dudley argued the technology at Miami is virtually unusable for blind students, who may require Braille, tactile graphics and text-to-speech software to keep up with coursework. Additionally, Dudley said she has not been able to use touchscreen systems for food or laundry without assistance.

As a result, Dudley said her grades have suffered, and that she may not be accepted into veterinary school with her current grade point average.

"My dream of becoming a veterinarian has turned into a nightmare," Dudley said in a Jan. 13 Fox News article. "I am pursuing this case not only for myself, but so that other blind students who matriculate at Miami University will not experience the same frustration, exhaustion and
sadness that I feel today."

Dudley added that specific programs Miami has incorporated into the curriculum were nearly impossible to use. The Degree Audit Report system (DARS) and Niihka she said, were extremely difficult to navigate without the use of a human aide. She stressed that if she were treated equally, she would be able to utilize these necessary programs self-sufficiently, with the help of computer software the university could provide.

"The Degree Audit color coded ststem doesn't lend itself well to a blind student," she said. "I can't navigate it independently. I should have the same chance to learn as all
other students do."

The lawsuit also said the university provided untrained or incompetent disability aids and denied Dudley her federal rights to equal access to programs and activities.

In response to the lawsuit, Director of University News and Communications Claire Wagner said the university denies all allegations, but declined further comment on the case.

However, she noted that Miami works to serve more than 300 disabled students and caters to each
one specifically.

"The specific needs of each student and employee with a disability are different and we determine how to accommodate those unique needs by engaging in an interactive dialogue or process with each individual," she said. "That process involves the individual making our Office of Disability Resources (ODR) aware of his or her needs, after which that office works him or her to provide an accommodation. That process is followed
in every case."

The director of the ODR at Miami, Andrew Zeisler, declined to comment on the case, but said Miami works to provide equal opportunities for
all students.

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"Our staff is passionate about advancing and sustaining an environment of equal access, diversity and inclusiveness for all members of the university community," he said. 

In the lawsuit, Dudley's attorney, Kerstin Sjoberg-Witt of Disability Rights Ohio, said the lack of accessibility for disabled students is a common vice on college campuses.

"Miami is not alone in this. It's a very common problem in higher
education," she said.

Witt said this continues to be an issue at universities because they lack the resources and communication between departments to ensure that specific needs are met for disabled students in all aspects of college life.

In the lawsuit, Dudley said she is seeking to repeat the first three years of her college education and asks for reparations from the university in the forms of grade expunction, full undergraduate tuition and costs payment, attorney fees payment and any compensatory damages decided by the court. 

Dudley said her ultimate goal is to make accessibility and accommodation for disabled students a priority on college campuses across the nation.

"I want to make material more accessible, so it works for everyone," she said. "I want to educate. I want to help other students have a better experience."