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January 30, 2003

Student seeks written captions

From: Penn State Digital Collegian, PA - 30 Jan 2003

A hearing-impaired student filed a complaint against Penn State, saying it did not provide adequate captioning in classes.

By Jessica Weisbrot
Collegian Staff Writer
In a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education on Jan. 19, Alexandra Cherrie (senior-food science) alleged Penn State is not providing her and other hearing-impaired students with the services they need for an equal education.

Cherrie's complaints against Penn State include what she says was the university's failing to provide adequate real-time captioning, refusing to grant a meeting with a representative from the Office of Disability Services (ODS), failing to provide a visual alarm in Borland Laboratory, and denying access to PS View, channel 72 on campus, due to lack of closed-captioning.

"Equal access to education is not a priority [for Penn State]," Cherrie said.

She spoke with ODS before she came to Penn State in the fall of 1999 and arrangements were made to have real-time captioning in her classes. However, Cherrie said the university did not follow through with these arrangements.

"[ODS] had nothing to offer us," Cherrie said. "They stonewalled us."

Penn State spokesman Steve MacCarthy said it was his understanding that ODS was correcting the situation.

ODS declined to comment on the complaint.

Another hearing-impaired student, Rebecca Holmes (sophomore-psychology), is considering filing a similar complaint, but she said she is hesitant to continue with the filing procedures.

"I had a six-year battle back home. It just ended when I graduated," Holmes said. "I'm four hours away from home and alone. This is the last thing I want to do."

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed by Congress in 1990, Cherrie said Penn State is required to provide the services she requested.

Cherrie also filed a complaint with Penn State's Office of Affirmative Action when ODS declined to meet with her and Holmes.

Ken Lehrman, director of the Office of Affirmative Action, also declined to comment on the complaint filed.

Real-time captioning entails a person accompanying a hearing impaired student to class to type lectures. The text appears on a computer screen located in front of the student, allowing him or her to read the notes from the screen.

A year ago, the captioning service contracted by Penn State stopped offering its services, she said.

Cherrie said Penn State employs only one real-time captionist, whose availability is limited because she has to work with several students.

"Our education rests in the hands of one woman," she said.

This semester has been a struggle for Cherrie and Holmes without the service being available for every class, they said. Cherrie said not having a captionist with her in class is detrimental.

"I am a more active participant in the classroom with it," she said. "I am able to take my own notes."

With two more years remaining at Penn State, Holmes said she hopes her educational resources will broaden.

"We have enough technology these days not to have to struggle," she said. "I am willing to compromise with ODS, but not to compromise on education."

Copyright © 2003 Collegian Inc.