Blind Student Sues Dartmouth for Equal Education

Blind Student Sues Dartmouth for Equal Education

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 Courtesy of Tim Collins.)


About Stewart Finnegan

In a perfect world, I'd be a professor who teaches poetry using episodes of mediocre sci-fi procedurals, but for now, I'm just a tutor who watches a lot of TV. I got my BA from Kalamazoo College in English with a focus on creative writing, and someday soon I'd like to go back to academia. Most of my formal teaching training was as a creative writing TA, but I've used those skills professionally more to tutor math and write data entry training materials. And though I'd like to focus my work on what I'm really passionate about (which is Netflix binges and outdated video games, mostly), it's the craft of teaching and writing that keeps me coming back. That's why I'm excited to be a part of High Faluter: I'm finding that academia doesn't just stay in academia. And if I can bring crappy midbrow entertainment into academia too, well, all the better. You can find me on Twitter: @StewartFinnegan