US asks to join blind student's lawsuit against Ohio school

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CINCINNATI (AP) — The Justice Department has asked to join a blind Miami University student's federal lawsuit accusing the southwest Ohio school of using technology that presents a barrier to her education.

The government filed a motion Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati to intervene in Aleeha Dudley's lawsuit. Dudley, of New Paris, sued the university in January 2014. Her lawsuit says course materials were inaccessible to her text-to-speech software and she hadn't received material in Braille or other forms she could use without help. Her lawsuit also says Miami violated federal law by failing to provide equal access.

The Justice Department's motion alleges the university has violated the American with Disabilities Act prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability. The government says the school uses technologies that are inaccessible to current and former students who have vision, hearing or learning disabilities.

"Miami's failures have deprived persons with disabilities of a full and equal opportunity to benefit from Miami University's educational opportunities," according to a Justice Department news release.

The university continues to deny it has done anything wrong, Miami's deputy general counsel, Mitchell McCrate, said Wednesday.

"We take very seriously our responsibilities under the ADA and have accommodated our disabled students and will continue to accommodate those students," McCrate said.

The public university has about 15,000 undergraduate students at its campus in Oxford, 25 miles north of Cincinnati.

Dudley was a junior when she filed the lawsuit and is listed in the class of 2015, but her current status isn't clear. Her attorney, Dan Goldstein, would say Wednesday only that she is not currently enrolled, but may enroll again.

"It's still her dream to go to veterinary school," Goldstein said.

Dudley has said her hopes of being admitted to a graduate program have been jeopardized by lackluster grades she blames on barriers to completing coursework. She says touchscreen systems used at Miami prevented her from ordering food or even doing laundry without help.

She is asking that Miami expunge her grades, pay her tuition and costs to repeat three academic years, pay her legal fees and other damages and provide court-determined relief. She also wants Miami ordered to stop violating disability laws.

The Justice Department's complaint asks the court to require Miami to provide accessible materials to ensure that those with disabilities can equally participate in and benefit from the university's educational opportunities. It also asks for a judgment compensating those harmed by the alleged discrimination.

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