By Maggie Callaghan, Senior Staff Writer
Miami University has settled a lawsuit with Aleeha Dudley, a former student who alleged the university did not accommodate her disability.
The settlement with Dudley, who is blind, will pay the cost of her tuition, books and room and board at Ohio State University, which is estimated to total $108,000 for a five-year education.
In addition, Miami will cover $142,000 in unpaid loans for Dudley, although the university does not claim any wrongdoing.
"While Miami continues to deny any liability, the settlement avoids the costs of litigations and permits Dudley to pursue her education elsewhere," said the university in its statement.
Dudley, a zoology major from New Paris, Ohio, filed the lawsuit against the university January 2014, as a junior.
The lawsuit claimed the university denied her adequate tools and equipment to succeed in the classroom. It also specifically stated that her course material on Niihka and her Degree Audit Report (DARs) - both essential tools for learning - were inaccessible.
"I had issues from day one. I just couldn't learn the same way as my peers without the proper resources," said Dudley in a June 2015 interview with The Miami Student.
In May 2015, the United States Department of Justice announced that it, too, would intervene in this case, stating the university had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Justice Department said Miami failed to provide students with proper software and required them to use inaccessible websites.
Jane Smith, who asked to have her name changed, knows all too well the struggles that Dudley endured on Miami's campus. Smith, who is disabled, has followed the Dudley story and feels just as frustrated with the ways in which Miami treats disabled students.
"It's immoral and inhumane," said Smith.
"We take our obligations under the American Disabilities Act very seriously," said Claire Wagner, university spokesperson, in a June 2015 interview with The Miami Student. "Miami provides extensive resources and accommodations for our disabled students, and will continue to do so."
While the university may be saying that they take their obligations seriously, those with disabilities are not finding the support that they need.
"Everyone deserves an equal opportunity and it's clear she wasn't and it sends chills up my spine," said Smith, who transferred to Miami. "But ... I applaud the University for actually doing something [for the disabled]."
Since the lawsuit, Miami has addressed many of these problems and made significant changes to help the 1,100 disabled students in Oxford and 1,500 disabled students at the regional campuses. According to university officials, Miami has put several initiatives in place over the past two years including forming an accessible technology committee, starting a new software program and hiring a web accessibility coordinator.
Miami's Student Disability Services (SDS) works directly with students who are disabled and has implemented several programs to help those students. One such initiative is Student Accessing Miami (SAM) which was launched in the fall of 2015, which allows for students to use an online portal to submit information about their disabilities, and then a coordinator will be able to review their information. Students with Disabilities Advisory Council (SDAC) was formed in the fall of 2015 and allows for students registered with SDS to give feedback.
Even with changes being made, students still question whether that will actually make a difference on campus and in the classroom.
"It's terrible that the schools had to be actually pushed by a lawsuit...awareness needs to be raised [about the issues] on campus," said Smith.
According to the university, Miami is continuing to negotiate with The Department of Justice in planning changes to make campus more accessible in the future.