Jessica Wells had always wanted to be a nurse. In 2006, she applied to the Associate Science of Nursing (ASN) program at Cox College in Springfield, Missouri. Unfortunately, her GPA wasn’t high enough to make the cut, so she enrolled as a general education student, hoping to improve her grades. Wells, who is deaf, flourished, thanks in part to the accommodations that the college provided to her, such as volunteer note takers and interpreters who accompanied her to class.
After college administrators asked an employee to shadow Wells to determine how a hearing-impaired person would fare as a nursing student, the employee reported that “the deaf/hard-of-hearing individual can be successful as both a nursing student and a nurse.” Wells, then in her mid-20s, was accepted into the ASN program in fall 2007. She had an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter with her in class, in pre- and post-clinical conferences, and for a week of rotations with real patients. She was also given special equipment, like an amplified stethoscope.
On January 22, however, just before the spring 2008 semester began, Wells received a letter from the school, dismissing her from the program. The college asserted that her “hearing loss would substantially limit (and in some cases completely limit) Wells’s ability to safely perform clinical rotations.”
On January 21, 2009, Wells filed a petition in the Circuit Court of Greene County. She claimed that her dismissal from the program violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because the school “fail[ed] to provide Plaintiff with reasonable accommodations so that she could participate in its nursing program despite her disability.”
“She’d done just fine in her clinical training,” says Wells’s attorney, Rita Sanders. “The school’s decision had no grounds.”
The college replied, arguing that the need to have interpreters in the clinical setting posed a “direct threat to the health or safety” of patients.
Did Cox College discriminate against a deaf student by dismissing her from its nursing program? You be the judge.
Next: The Verdict