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Louisiana McNeese State University in Lawsuit

  • Synopsis: Published: 2008-09-15 (Revised/Updated 2010-07-03) - An attorney from Lake Charles Louisiana is currently representing a woman in a wheelchair who was injured in a McNeese State University campus restroom. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Disabled World.

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As the nation discusses Governor Palin's special needs child and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments of 2008, Disabled World would like to bring to your attention an interesting case involving discrimination against the disabled by a public university in the deep south of Louisiana.

An attorney from Lake Charles, Louisiana is currently representing a woman in a wheelchair who was injured in a McNeese State University campus restroom which was marked as being accessible for the disabled but which was not. Indeed, the restroom hadn't been modified since 1966.

What makes this an interesting case isn't that the woman was injured... that sort of thing happens everyday. Rather, it's the fact that the State of Louisiana has taken some very backwards and discriminatory positions with regard to its treatment of the disabled, positions that you wouldn't expect to be taken in a third-world nation, much less in the United States in 2008.

In legal documents, the Louisiana Attorney General's office has argued:

1. That those in wheelchairs are not entitled to fully access public universities;

2. That Louisiana public universities are not required to follow Federal law or upgrade any of their facilities to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act;

3. That the disabled are not entitled to utilize public restrooms at public universities and must learn to hold their bladders; and

4. That if the disabled do wish to come onto the campus of a public university, they should bring with them their medical records, prove their disabilities (because, in their words, "anyone can purchase a wheelchair at a pawnshop"), and allow strangers to pick them up and place them onto toilet seats.

McNeese has gone as far as to admit that its efforts to discourage the disabled from receiving a college education have prevented 75% of prospective disabled students from completing their degrees. To add insult to injury, McNeese's officials further admit that they routinely receive and spend grants for the disabled (an average of $50,000 per student) on other things. McNeese has spent half a million dollars in casino tax revenue just to "beautify" its non-accessible buildings in the last few years.

This is not only a shocking legal story, but a tremendous human interest story about the difficulties that the disabled still face in our country and the lengths that some still go to in order to deny opportunities to those who are perceived as different. The accommodations sought would have cost the State of Louisiana about $4,000 and made the McNeese student union accessible to all. An attorney on the womans behalf offered to settle the case for nothing more than medical expenses and bringing that restroom into compliance. Instead, the State has argued in legal proceedings that their client is insane for believing that she has the right to attend college in a wheelchair.

This case has lingered for eight years, and McNeese has appealed the fact that it lost at the trial court. Appellate arguments are scheduled for October 1, and the outcome will likely determine whether the disabled are allowed to attend college at all in Louisiana.

The Civil Rights Acts ended discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and gender. The Americans with Disabilities Act extended that protection to the disabled so that those with impairments could have meaningful and productive lives. The State of Louisiana is clearly stuck in the 1950s, in an era where minorities and the disabled were considered second-class citizens.

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