Dartmouth junior and Paralympian skier Staci Manella is suing the school, alleging that it failed to give her the same quality of education it offers to her sighted peers, even as it uses her story for publicity.
Manella is legally blind, competed in the Sochi 2014 Paralympics, and is studying to be a veterinarian. The suit charges that Dartmouth was all too happy to repeat these facts in its promotional materials, but repeatedly failed to accommodate Manella’s disability. The document lists dozens of cases where Manella lacked note takers or study materials she could read until long after her peers had access to the information. And when she went to faculty and administration for help, she received indifference, inaction, or condescension (when she spoke to a biology professor about a test that required identifying microscopic images, the professor suggested she transfer to a less academically rigorous school because jesus fucking christ what the hell).
Dartmouth denies the allegations, and says it has accommodated Manella at every step of the way. But the suit says that, while Dartmouth has always promised to provide assistance, it has consistently failed to do so. Even after an administrative panel agreed to a list of Manella’s requirements during her second year, many went unfulfilled. For instance, Manella took a chemistry class her junior year that gave students a practice test and answer key to prepare for an exam. The answer key, though, was not in any format Manella could access, and while she did eventually get a copy, it was after she had taken the exam.
Manella’s case isn’t unique. Louisiana Tech University settled in 2013 after vision-impaired students accused it of similar inadequacies. The Inside Higher Ed article above heralds that lawsuit as a landmark case for vision-impaired students, but, obviously, not everything has changed.
With grim statistics for the blind and visually impaired in academia, more clearly must be done. But Dartmouth’s case suggests that it’s too easy for universities to claim accessibility for the disabled while half-assing the implementation. After all, Manella, technically did get her practice test answer key. But she got it too late.
(Photo of "Braille" Courtesy of Tim Collins.)