On June 27, 2014, the Iowa Supreme Court handed down a decision arising from an Aug. 1, 2005, Davenport Civil Rights Commission disability discrimination charge filed by Aaron Cannon against the College. Mr. Cannon was a Doctor of Chiropractic degree program student during the 2005 spring trimester only. He filed the discrimination charge after withdrawing from the program.
Mr. Cannon was born totally blind. He had no usable vision to either read print or visualize objects. As he described it, he could “see light and dark and that’s about it.” He’s never seen color. He’s never seen a human body. And he’s never seen a diagnostic image, such as an X-ray.
Mr. Cannon’s total blindness from birth brought into play Palmer’s technical standard that states students must have a “sufficient use of the sense of vision” necessary to perform chiropractic and general physical examinations, including the review of radiographs, as taught in the curriculum.
With this disability in mind, the College followed its Handbook for Students with Disabilities. The only accommodation Mr. Cannon sought was a sighted assistant. This accommodation wouldn’t have come into play until his fifth trimester.
Mr. Cannon met and corresponded with the College’s disability coordinator, and he met with the College’s Disability Steering Committee. At his request, the College met with the Iowa Department of the Blind. That state agency indicated it would follow up with recommendations for the College to consider. It never did. The College expressed a willingness to continue the dialogue, but Mr. Cannon then chose to withdraw.
Based upon its technical standard, the College’s position became that a sighted assistant as proposed by Mr. Cannon was not a reasonable accommodation.
A public hearing was held by the Davenport Civil Rights Commission, at which time the College presented the testimony from nine administrators and faculty members. The Commission found in favor of Mr. Cannon.
The College appealed that finding to the Scott County Iowa District Court which found in favor of the College. That decision was then appealed by the Davenport Civil Rights Commission and Aaron Cannon to the Iowa Supreme Court. As part of the appeal, the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners, National University of Health Sciences and Logan College of Chiropractic filed “friend of the court” briefs in support of Palmer College.
Despite the College’s efforts to work cooperatively with Mr. Cannon, the Court ruled the College should have done more. The Court also held that, based on the facts of this case, the local Commission didn’t erroneously interpret or irrationally apply the law in concluding that providing an untrained sighted assistant wouldn’t fundamentally alter the College’s curriculum. In short, the Court wasn’t persuaded that “all chiropractic students must be able to see radiographic images.”
In stark contrast, Justice Waterman, joined by Justice Mansfield, issued a dissent. After expressing their admiration for Mr. Cannon by acknowledging the challenges he’s overcome, Justice Waterman wrote: “… there is a point at which an accommodation ceases to be reasonable, and it has been met here.”
Justice Waterman went on to describe the Court’s holding as a “ludicrous” and “unprecedented” intrusion into academic judgment. That intrusion, he wrote, “elevates political correctness over common sense,” thereby allowing a totally blind student to interpret X-rays based on what an “untrained reader” tells him -- a circumstance which could lead to a “misinterpreted X-ray,” “improper treatment” and “lifelong paralysis.”
Instead of striking a “balance” between the disabled student and the health care educational institution, Justice Waterman describes the Court’s opinion as running “roughshod over Palmer’s legitimate interests and the integrity of Palmer’s Chiropractic Program.”
As we move forward, it’s important to remember that Palmer College of Chiropractic is committed to the success of all its students. There currently are 54 students with documented disabilities receiving reasonable accommodations on our Davenport Campus alone. Palmer has and will continue to reasonably accommodate its students with disabilities, including those who are visually impaired.