Appeals court revives deaf medical student case

In a major victory for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled unanimously January 15 that a deaf student, who does not speak sign language, may sue his medical school for failure to accommodate him with certain technologies and provide an interpreter.

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CART Sought

As an undergraduate student at Seattle University, Michael Argenyi received the assistance of computer-assisted real-time transcription (CART), a system which transcribes written words onto a computer screen.

Argenyi, who has been using various hearing aids since he was one years old, also was assisted with an interpreter who spoke with “cued speech,” which uses hand signals to represent sounds. Argenyi earned a 3.87 grade point average.

Creighton Medical School in Nebraska, however, denied him the use of both these accommodations. Argenyi stayed at the school and passed his classes for two years, but dropped out during the third year, arguing that the school was denying him a “meaningful participation” in the program.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska granted summary judgment for Creighton Medical School. But on appeal, a three-judge panel for the 8th Circuit stated that the district court had applied the wrong legal standard.

“Rather than merely ensure that Argenyi is not ‘effectively excluded’ from its medical school, the (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the Rehabilitation Act require Creighton to ‘start by considering how [its educational programs] are used by non-disabled [medical school students] and then take reasonable steps to provide [Argenyi] with a like experience,'” the court stated. “We conclude that the evidence produced in this case created a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Creighton denied Argenyi an equal opportunity to gain the same benefit from medical school as his non-disabled peers by refusing to provide his requested accommodations. “

The case is now remanded back to the district court, where a jury will determine if the school violated the ADA by denying him the accommodations.

Creighton argues that these accommodations are not “necessary” and that it had provided “effective communication” within the meaning of the ADA. Argenyi testified that he was “unable to follow classroom lectures and classroom dialogue” or “the rapid pace of the dialogue in the clinical setting.”

Disability Rights Nebraska is representing Argenyi in the lawsuit. The Department of Justice filed an amicus brief on his behalf in January 2012.

Disability Rights Nebraska is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.