Settlement Reached in UC Disability Lawsuit

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UC agreed to change the way it accommodates hearing disabilities after recently settling a class action lawsuit brought by students from its Berkeley and Davis campuses.

Without admitting any wrongdoing, UC agreed to further fund and expand programs for hearing-impaired students and pay the named plaintiffs $10,000 each in damages, according to the Nov. 1 settlement. The UC Office of the President must cover an estimated $1 million in plaintiff legal fees.

The 1999 lawsuit was filed by four former and current UC Berkeley and UC Davis students on behalf of other hearing-impaired students. It alleged that campuses failed to provide for the needs of hearing-impaired students, "effectively precluding an equal opportunity to learn."

"These are very significant changes," said Guy Wallace, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers. "We think (the settlement) is a blueprint for the future for other campuses to follow."

The settlement abolished the policy under which a hearing-impaired student's notetaker would leave a class if the student did not show up within the first 10 minutes. Notetakers now must stay longer, and, if notified of anticipated tardiness, they are required to stay for the duration.

In addition, notetakers can no longer stop coming to a class if a student is more than 10 minutes late on three occasions.

"I believe if I were given better assistance from the university, I will have a much (better) GPA," said Lexin Ka, a hearing-impaired UC Berkeley senior.

Under the settlement, UC Berkeley and UC Davis are required to provide "auxiliary aids and services at university expense" for hearing-impaired students who wish to take part in the Education Abroad Program.

The settlement now allows hearing-impaired students to get assistance and services to participate in extracurricular activities from the Disabled Students' Program at their school.

Students seeking services previously had to go through the activity coordinators, who were often unable to arrange for the appropriate services.

Along with the policy changes, a two-person panel is evaluating the campuses to determine whether further provisions need to be made to accommodate hearing-impaired students.

Arnie Lerner, one of the panel members, described his role on the panel as a "mediator."

"We're going to make recommendations, and then both sides can decide whether they want to accept them or not," Lerner said. "They probably will."

UC officials said the settlement is a good thing for hearing-impaired students, adding to a program that is already more than adequate.

"The settlement will help to improve the services for (the) deaf and hard of hearing," said UC attorney Jeff Blair. "But I also believe that the services provided by both campuses before the settlement were ones that citizens of the state of California would be proud of."

The UC Board of Regents, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl and UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef were named as defendants in the suit.


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