Deaf visiting student researcher Nancy Barker allegedly denied services by Disabled Students’ Program

Ethan Epstein/Staff

Related Posts

Nancy Barker, a deaf Canadian visiting student researcher at UC Berkeley, is alleging that she was denied interpreting services by the campus’s Disabled Students’ Program, or DSP.

Barker came to the UC Berkeley campus for the 2016-17 academic year to obtain techniques and skills that would help her complete her doctoral dissertation in ecological sciences and conservation, according to a press release from Barker. When she arrived, she was allegedly told that the campus was not prepared to accommodate her needs.

“DSP has been remarkably resistant. Their first reaction was ‘you’re not our problem … we have nothing to do with you,’ ” Barker alleged in an interview, through a sign language interpreter.

After spending a month on campus, Barker departed for a period of time and then returned. According to Barker, when she came back to UC Berkeley, she was more aggressive and assertive about her expectations from the campus. Barker said she wanted to make use of available resources and improve the quality of her work.

Barker said she remained frustrated even after her return to campus. She added that she feels most people believe being deaf is her own issue to battle.

“From August to now, it’s been frustration after frustration,” Barker said. “I couldn’t learn, I haven’t been able to proceed with my education. I am not getting what I came for.”

Barker referenced an instance in which she had to present data to her lab group. According to Barker, she did not have access to an interpreter at the time, so she tried to present the data herself. Barker said her lab mates began discussing her findings, but she had no idea what they were talking about.

Barker said she does not know if she will finish her doctorate, adding that she believes if she could hear, she would be done with the analysis phase of her dissertation by now.

Since January, DSP has allegedly given Barker access to an interpreter about 20 percent of the time. The rest of the time, the press release alleged, she is “left with no communication access to make use of the University’s resources.”

DSP Director Karen Nielson said in an email that she could not address the concerns of specific students because of confidentiality reasons. She did, however, acknowledge a distinction in accommodation processes for campus students and visiting student researchers.

“(Visiting students) are not considered Berkeley students … so their accommodations are handled by the department that hosts them,” Nielson said. “DSP is 100 percent committed to providing appropriate legal accommodations to our students, and we do our best to do that.”

Barker said she has not taken any legal action against UC Berkeley because she does not want to ruin her relationship with the campus or be labeled a troublemaker. She added, however, that she chose to reach out to the media because of her frustration.

“I don’t want to put anybody in this position, but I’m done,” Barker said. “It’s been such a disappointment. … I feel like so many goals are collapsing right in front of me.”

Barker cited the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, a U.S. labor law that “prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment,” according to the law text.

According to Barker, until she gained access to an interpreter, she had no idea what research her lab mate was conducting despite having sat next to him every day.

“I feel like I have been (on campus) physically, but not in any other way,” Barker said. “(It is) a humiliation for me, as an academic. … This shouldn’t be happening. This should not have been allowed to happen.”

Contact Ishira Shrivatsa at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @i_shrivatsa.

Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comment policy

    This is a problem I have experienced at other schools. Disability Offices are tasked with serving students and universities often don’t have a plan or structure in place to handle visitors with ADA needs.

  • thepanekroom

    This is the mentality I encountered again and again during my years working for this University: “That’s not my responsibility.” Rather than any effort expended trying to find a solution, or even trying to appear that way, the public face of the Disabled Students Program shuts the door on the discussion. Mission statements should not be treated as the end of the discussion of responsibility, but the beginning of it — just because you don’t need to pay for the visiting researcher’s interpreters doesn’t mean you can’t facilitate their presence; send the bill to the department afterward. (If there’s anything the bureaucracy within this university adores, it’s billing itself for things.)

    I’ve heard other reports from a Deaf student (*not* a visiting researcher) unable to get interpreters consistently, or of consistent quality, and the stresses this adds to an already stressful program. Imagine going to class, and the person you rely on to understand what’s being discussed has no idea how to spell Roentgen, or Baudrillard, or Mukherjee. Imagine that your fellow students are having a study group on short notice — would you even try to go, knowing that at best you’ll get 10% of what they’re saying?

    • Roberto Santiago

      I agree. Regardless of who ends up footing the bill, the process should be transparent to the person seeking accommodations. DSP is the entity best able to find the interpreters. Whatever DSP has to work out behind the scenes should stay behind the scenes. This could also include involving the home institution of the visiting scholar.

  • Roberto Santiago

    The ADA is not a labor law. Ms. Barker’s situation would not fall under the Title I employment provisions. Cal’s responsibility would fall under Titles II or III of the ADA. Those titles cover State and local government entities, and places of public accommodation and commercial facilities.

    This should not be happening at any UC school. When the school accepts someone to any program or arrangement on campus that person should be given equal access. If UCB knew they had no access plan, they should have coordinated costs with Ms. Barker’s home institution. There are many ways this could have been resolved. It looks like DSP failed to explore their options, and failed this visiting academic.

    • jo bacon

      right on.