The Iowa Supreme Court ruled June 27 that one of the nation’s leading chiropractic colleges may not exclude from its program an applicant solely on the basis that he is blind.
In 2004, Aaron Cannon applied to the Davenport, Iowa-based Palmer College of Chiropractic. He was admitted to the College’s undergraduate program, in order to complete the prerequisites to the chiropractic school.
When he applied for the chiropractic program, however, Palmer College denied his entry, on the grounds that his vision would prevent him from properly examining X-Rays. Cannon requested that he be accommodated with a sight reader, but to no avail.
Contending that his exclusion violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Iowa civil rights law, Cannon appealed the decision to the Davenport Civil Rights Commission, which ruled in his favor in 2010.
The Iowa Supreme Court, in a 5-2 decision, upheld the Commission’s findings.
In its opinion, the Court found that the Commission failed to investigate whether Cannon could, in fact, fulfill the school’s requirements with the accommodation of the sight reader.
In doing so, the Court found that the school failed to undergo the individualized inquiry necessary when analyzing such requests.
“If there is an inquiry hidden in that apparent tautology as to how or whether the standards might be modified in any individual case, or more importantly, an indication as to the way the inquiry was made for Cannon, we cannot discern it,” Justice Daryl Hecht wrote for the majority. “Palmer’s generalized application did little to satisfy its obligation of individualized investigation here.”
Moreover, the Court found it, “instructive that numerous medical schools, ostensibly recognizing these realities, have admitted blind students and made accommodation in recent years.”
The dissent criticized the majority for declining to defer to the College’s judgment.
“What is next? Are we going to require the Federal Aviation Administration to hire blind air traffic controllers, relying on assistants to tell them what is appearing on the screen? The principle is the same here,” dissenting Justice Thomas Waterman wrote. “A misinterpreted X-ray could lead to improper treatment and lifelong paralysis.”
The National Federation of the Blind, which filed an amicus brief on Cannon’s behalf, called the case a “landmark ruling.”
“For a long time, courts have given academic institutions almost absolute deference in determining whether to provide accommodations to students with disabilities. Today’s decision makes a critically important statement that even though educational institutions have the right to determine their curricula, they still must provide equal opportunity and accommodations,” said Scott LaBarre, the attorney for Aaron Cannon who argued the case before the Iowa Supreme Court, in a NFB news release.