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May 9, 2006

Deaf Students File Lawsuit Against USU

From: KUTV, UT - May 9, 2006

SALT LAKE CITY Several deaf students have filed a lawsuit against Utah State University claiming the school has failed to provide adequate sign-language interpreters and other services to aid in their education.

The lawsuit, filed Monday by a group of 12 deaf current and former USU students in U.S. District Court, seeks a declaration that the school violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, which states no disabled person shall "be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs or activities of a public entity." The students also are seeking new policies for the accommodation of deaf students and unspecified monetary damages.

The plaintiffs are asking U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Greene to certify the lawsuit as a class-action on behalf of past, current and future USU students who are deaf. Both USU and the Board of Regents are named as defendants.

The lawsuit says the school denies deaf students equal access to educational opportunities, effective communication with professors, fails to provide accommodations in a timely manner and uses policies and procedures that are discriminatory or tend to screen out students who are deaf.

Students have been steered away from some classes and redirected to others where the school can provide accommodations, said attorney Dale Boam.

"There are many students who are unable to take classes in their major," he said.

Boam said the students have been trying to negotiate with USU officials for years, receiving several letters from administrators acknowledging the shortage of interpreters for deaf students. The students finally opted for legal action, Boam said, after none of the school's promises to fix the situation materialized.

"It has been put on the back burner; it's been nodded and smiled at," he said.

Diane Baum, director of the USU Disability Resource Center, said she has been working to fill the gaps in deaf student resources for years and has recently hired two full-time interpreters. But she said few qualified interpreters are turning up from national searches.

Baum is also trying to buy remote video equipment to allow students to watch an interpreter from out of state on a computer screen while in class.

"Everyone is looking for interpreters. There's just a national shortage, and the training programs are not keeping up with the demand," Baum said.

But attorney Boam said the interpreters and note-takers the school does have aren't versed enough in academia to be of any real help.

Brandon Dopf, one of the defendants, said the interpreter assigned to his calculus class was only able to tell him when the professor assigned quizzes. In other classes, Dopf was instructed to change his schedule to get an interpreter.

Anna West, a spokeswoman for the Utah Board of Regents, said Tuesday the board had not received a copy of the lawsuit and had no comment.

© 2006 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.