[NFBK] National Federation of the Blind Sues Duke University

National Federation of the Blind webmaster at nfb.org
Fri Jun 5 12:45:20 UTC 2020





_Lawsuit Alleges Discrimination Against Blind Students_ 

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA (JUNE 4, 2020): Duke University systematically
discriminates against blind students and alumni in violation of the
Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, according to a
lawsuit filed today. The action, brought by the National Federation of the
Blind and Duke MBA Mary Fernandez, alleges that Duke failed to ensure that
blind students can interact with digital content and platforms and access
course materials--including hard-copy Braille materials and hard-copy
tactile graphics when requested and appropriate--on an equal basis with
students without disabilities. 

According to the lawsuit, Plaintiff Mary Fernandez is a blind student who
began the Duke Daytime MBA program in the fall of 2018. To read print, Ms.
Fernandez uses screen access software, Job Access with Speech ("JAWS"),
which vocalizes the text using synthesized speech or displays it on a
connected device called a refreshable Braille display. For STEM subjects,
Ms. Fernandez also uses hard-copy Braille and tactile graphics to better
understand the complex concepts because refreshable Braille displays only
display a single line of Braille cells at a time, and thus are not useful
for complex equations, coordinate planes, diagrams, maps, and other

Ms. Fernandez met with the Assistant Director of Student Life before she
enrolled and was assured Duke would provide the accommodations she needed
to have equal access to her education. From the start, however, Ms.
Fernandez experienced barriers that permeated every aspect of her
educational experience. When she applied for admission, she encountered an
inaccessible web-based application. When she registered online for courses,
she could not access the course descriptions. When she utilized the
employer recruiting system, she could not set up her user profile and could
not utilize any of the search functions. In addition, Duke failed to
provide Ms. Fernandez with timely access to accessible course materials,
including hard-copy Braille and tactile graphics when she requested them.
As a result, Ms. Fernandez was continually forced to divert her time and
attention away from her studies to advocate for equal access to her

"Blind students must have access to course materials in accessible formats
including Braille, along with equal access to digital platforms and
content, at the same time as sighted students in order to have an equal
opportunity to succeed," said Mark Riccobono, President of the National
Federation of the Blind. "This is not a new issue; it has been a focus of
our advocacy for nearly two decades, and institutions of higher education
have no excuse for not meeting this legal and moral obligation. The blind
cannot and will not tolerate discrimination of this kind." 

"The failure to provide blind students with timely, accessible course
materials and career services not only harms their educational experience,
it puts their future career and economic self-sufficiency at risk," said
Virginia Knowlton Marcus, chief executive officer of Disability Rights
North Carolina. "Duke University, in particular, has previously been sued
by Disability Rights NC regarding the inaccessibility of its course
materials and has the responsibility to know better and do better." 

"I expected an institution with Duke's high standards and reputation to be
able to meet my needs as a blind student and was assured that would
happen," said Ms. Fernandez. "Instead, my time at Duke has been something
of a nightmare. I hope the action I am now taking will improve things for
future blind students who want to attend Duke." 

The plaintiffs are represented by the attorneys of Disability Rights NC and
the law firm of Brown Goldstein Levy LLP [2]. 



The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), headquartered in Baltimore, is
the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans. Founded
in 1940, the NFB consists of affiliates, chapters, and divisions in the
fifty states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. The NFB defends the rights of
blind people of all ages and provides information and support to families
with blind children, older Americans who are losing vision, and more. We
believe in the hopes and dreams of blind people and work together to
transform them into reality. Learn more about our many programs and
initiatives at www.nfb.org [3]. 


Disability Rights North Carolina (DRNC) is the federally mandated
protection and advocacy agency for the State of North Carolina dedicated to
advancing the rights of all people with disabilities, of all ages,
statewide. DRNC is an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and a
member of the National Disability Rights Network. Learn more about
Disability Rights North Carolina at www.disabilityrightsnc.org [4]. 


Chris Danielsen
 Director of Public Relations
 National Federation of the Blind
 (410) 659-9314, extension 2330
 (410) 262-1281 (Cell)
 cdanielsen at nfb.org 

Holly Stiles
 Litigation Counsel
 Disability Rights North Carolina
 (919) 856-2195
 holly.stiles at disabilityrightsnc.org 



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21230 | 410-659-9314 

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