After four years of legal battles, a hearing-impaired student has won the court order he sought to force Creighton University's medical school to provide specific accommodations that he says will allow him to succeed academically.
U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp on Friday ordered Creighton to provide Michael S. Argenyi with Communication Access Real-time Transcription (CART) and sign-supported oral interpreters. The CART service creates transcripts that one can read on a computer. Angenyi does not know American Sign Language, but has used these other methods to succeed academically.
Creighton originally won dismissal of the case, arguing that Argenyi had not demonstrated that he needed the specific accommodations he wanted. But a federal appeals court ruled in January that he had in fact provided enough evidence to justify a jury trial. He then won that trial, setting up Judge Camp's ruling on the remedies to which he is entitled.
The medical school never denied that Argenyi needs tools to fully understand his instructors and -- in clinical training -- patients. The university offered to have instructors wear special microphones that would make sound in the cochlear implants Arngenyi wears. He tried that approach, but found it didn't work. He said he could hear sounds, but not make out what they were. For two years, Argenyi paid for the CART service himself (borrowing $100,000 to do so), but the university questioned whether he should be able to use the service -- regardless of who paid for it. At that point, he sought legal help and left the medical school, believing he couldn't succeed without the services to allow him to know what instructors and patients were saying.
Mary Vargas, one of Argenyi's lawyers, said in an interview that Argenyi had used CART successfully as an undergraduate at Seattle University, and -- since leaving Creighton -- at Boston University, where he is in a joint master of public health/master of social work program. She said it was important that courts listen to people with disabilities about the assistance they need, and not assume that colleges and universities can simply dictate the best approach to a given issue.
Judge Camp's ruling cited that view (endorsed by the appeals court that ruled on the case in January). "The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit made clear its opinion that, '[i]n a case such as this it is especially important to consider the complainant's testimony carefully because the individual with a disability is most familiar with his or her disability and is in the best position to determine what type of aid or service will be effective,'" Judge Camp wrote.
She added: "At this juncture, the paramount objective of both parties -- and of the court -- should be to ensure that Argenyi has an opportunity to complete his medical education successfully and begin his career as a physician, without continuing disputes and litigation. Considering all the testimony and evidence offered at trial and in the parties’ later submissions, and giving particular weight to Argenyi’s own testimony about the effectiveness of CART in lecture settings and the effectiveness of interpreters in small-group and clinical settings, as well as his observations about the deficiencies of other accommodations, the court will grant his motion for injunctive relief."
The judge rejected, however, Argenyi's request that Creighton be required to reimburse him for the expenses he took on to pay for the CART and other services during the first two years of his medical education. The judge found that there was no evidence that the university had acted in "bad faith."
A lawyer for Creighton told the Associated Press that he was pleased with that part of the ruling, but that Creighton was considering whether to appeal the rest of it.
Vargas said that Argenyi selected his current programs at Boston University with the idea of seeking education that would help him when he goes back to medical school. "He's ready to go back," she said.
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