Legal Case Paves the Way for Students
WASHINGTON, D.C. – January 15, 2013 – The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell) applauds the decision of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which has ruled in favor of the plaintiff in Argenyi v. Creighton University (PDF) (No. 11-3336). AG Bell filed an amicus brief in this case in support of Argenyi.
Michael Argenyi, who recently received a cochlear implant, has been deaf since infancy and grew up using listening and spoken language. He had used Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) interpreting for many years in school and enrolled in Creighton University Medical School in Omaha, Neb.
Once at Creighton University, Argenyi requested CART interpeting so he could understand what was being said in classes and during medical rounds. Many medical students who are deaf—as well as students with hearing loss pursuing higher education—have been provided with similar accommodations pursuant to relevant federal disability laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
However, Creighton rebuffed Argenyi’s request for CART interpreting. Instead, Creighton told Argenyi to sit in the front row of the classroom and speechread professors. Creighton also offered to provide Argenyi with a notetaker and FM assistive listening device and informed him that its lectures were available on audio podcast on the school’s website. Argenyi said that these accommodations were not effective given his profound hearing loss and that he needed CART interpreting to fully understand the lectures. Argenyi ended up spending nearly $100,000 of his own money to pay for CART interpreting.
Argenyi brought suit against Creighton in federal court in Nebraska alleging violations of the ADA and Section 504. However, the district court ruled in the school’s favor, holding that Argenyi had not been denied access to the medical school because he was passing his classes—albeit while paying for his own interpreting. The district court also questioned whether CART interpreting was necessary for Argenyi. Argenyi appealed to the 8th Circuit, and AG Bell filed an amicus brief in his support.
In the amicus brief, AG Bell argued that the ADA clearly requires universities to provide accommodations to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to classroom materials, and that Creighton seriously overestimated how much Argenyi could understand in the classroom lectures using his cochlear implant and speechreading. AG Bell further contended that the district court’s determination that CART was not “necessary” for Argenyi to attend medical school understated the relevant accessibility standard. Other courts had held that students who are deaf and hard of hearing must be provided with accommodations that are “necessary” to ensure equal opportunity as their typical peers. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) also filed a brief in this case largely agreeing with AG Bell’s arguments.
In a unanimous decision, the 8th Circuit agreed with the plaintiff, AG Bell and the DOJ that Creighton had violated federal accessibility statutes by denying CART to Argenyi. The Court stated that accommodations are “necessary” if they “ensure that all people have ‘full and equal enjoyment’ of public accommodations [i.e., schools] regardless of disability.” Because Argenyi could not fully understand lectures and rounds without CART, he had stated a viable claim under federal accessibility statutes. The 8th Circuit remanded the case to the district court for a trial under the proper standards. AG Bell will continue to monitor the case.
This case will help pave the way for students who are deaf and hard of hearing in higher education to access CART interpreting if it is necessary for them to gain equal opportunity in the classroom, said Donald M. Goldberg, Ph.D., CCC-SLP/A, LSLS Cert. AVT, AG Bell president. “It is critical for students who are deaf and hard of hearing to obtain needed accommodations in higher education—the provision of accommodations has enabled numerous people with hearing loss to obtain academic degrees in all fields.”
The Argenyi amicus brief was written by Steven R. Rech, former AG Bell board member, with assistance from Mark Merrell, both of Schwartz, Junell, Greenberg & Oathout LLP in Houston, Texas. AG Bell is grateful for their assistance.
AG Bell submitted an amicus brief to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in K.M. v. Tustin Unified School District (PDF) (No. 11-56259), which involved a nearly identical situation as the Argenyi case with a high school student who is deaf and requested CART interpreting. AG Bell is grateful for the assistance of Rech, who filed the brief on behalf of AG Bell. A decision is expected in K.M. in the near future, and AG Bell will continue to monitor the case.