Officials Deny Discrimination of Deaf at Community College
Lisa Rosengrant lost her hearing when she was three. She's now a college student, and she can hear somewhat with the help of hearing aids. But she still has trouble taking notes in class.
"This past semester, I pretty much failed all my classes because I didn't have the right services," Rosengrant said.
She transferred to Naugatuck Valley Community College last year to be closer to home, but she didn't have access to the variety of services she got while at Northwestern Connecticut Community College. Northwestern houses a program for deaf and hard of hearing students that's unique within Connecticut.
But many deaf students have been leaving Northwestern. In 2013, there were 20 deaf or hard-of-hearing students enrolled. Last fall, only seven attended. This spring, it's down to five.
Deaf advocates have said it's shrinking because students like Rosengrant can't make the trip to Northwestern, which doesn't offer housing, and is tucked away in rural Winsted. Now the program has also cut back on staff, raising even more concerns.
At least four students have filed complaints with the state's Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, alleging violations to the Americans with Disabilities Act because of these staff and alleged service reductions. The Board of Regents has denied the discrimination claim.
No "one at [Northwestern] discriminated or retaliated against [the student] in any way," wrote Gregory Daniels, a lawyer for the Board of Regents for Higher Education, in a response to one complaint obtained by WNPR.
Daniels argued that the student in this case did not provide a specific example of discrimination.
But Roseann Dennerlien, a former counselor for the deaf at Northwestern, sees things differently.
"It's not just a Northwestern issue, it's a statewide issue," she said. "At other colleges, they have a tutor that knows the material but doesn't know anything about how deaf people learn, so there's a gap. And that's discrimination."
An advisory board from Northwestern has sought to move the program for deaf students to Naugatuck Valley in Waterbury, which already offers a broader offering of classes and is more easily accessible. College officials there have not expressed interest in housing such a program.