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Creighton University Must Accommodate Deaf Student

OMAHA, Neb. ― A federal judge has ruled that Creighton University’s medical school must provide a deaf student with special equipment and interpreters to allow him to finish his last two years there.

But the judge also ruled Friday that the university does not have to reimburse Michael Argenyi for more than $100,000 of his own money he spent in his first two years for those resources.

Argenyi was accepted to Creighton’s medical school in 2008 after disclosing that he was hearing impaired and requesting accommodations for his disability to allow him to follow lectures and communicate with patients.

He sued in 2009, after leaving the Omaha school when the university refused his requests for interpreters — even though he offered to pay for them himself.

Argenyi was an infant when he began using hearing aids for his disability, but his parents primarily communicated with him through spoken language. Argenyi does not know sign language, relying instead on “cued speech,” which uses hand signals to distinguish sounds that appear the same on a speaker’s lips.

While an undergraduate student at Seattle University, Argenyi used a system that transcribes spoken words into text on a computer screen. With the help of that system and a cued speech interpreter — both of which were provided by Seattle University ― Argenyi graduated in 2008 with a 3.87 GPA.

Creighton did provide some assistance, such as a system in which professors wore a microphone that emitted frequencies that could be picked up by Argenyi’s cochlear implants. But Argenyi said the system was not adequate to accommodate his hearing disability, and one doctor determined it actually reduced Argenyi’s ability to understand his professors.

The university repeatedly refused Argenyi’s requests for the transcription system and interpreters, leading Argenyi to take out more than $110,000 in loans to pay for the assistance himself in his first two years of medical school.

He took a leave of absence in his third year when the university refused to allow him to have an interpreter to interact with clinical patients, even if he paid for the interpreter himself.

The school had argued that once Argenyi graduated, he shouldn’t be using interpreters in the real world and that use of an interpreter could violate doctor-patient confidentiality.

In September, a federal jury found that Creighton had discriminated against Argenyi, but that the discrimination was not intentional. For that reason, it did not award him any damages.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp denied Argenyi’s request for reimbursement but said the medical school must provide him with the special equipment and interpreters when Argenyi resumes medical school next year.

Argenyi’s attorney, Mary Vargas, lauded the judge’s order for the school to accommodate Argenyi’s hearing disability for his last two years of medical school but said she would appeal the denial of reimbursement.

Vargas said that federal law prohibits schools from passing the costs of those accommodations off onto the disabled student.

“Creighton University could well afford the cost of accommodating Mr. Argenyi,” Vargas told The Associated Press. “Creighton is sitting back and letting this young man pay their bills.”

Creighton attorney Scott P. Moore, of Omaha, praised the judge’s refusal to order reimbursement, but said the university is mulling whether to appeal the judge’s order to provide Argenyi with the equipment and interpreters.

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