Court: Chiropractic college must accomodate blind Minnesota student


The Iowa Supreme Court says one of the nation's leading chiropractic colleges must accommodate a blind Minnesota man who wanted to complete his degree.

In the 50-page ruling issued Friday, the court ruled 5-2 that the Palmer College of Chiropractic has to readmit Aaron Cannon – a blind man from Bloomington, Minnesota – and allow him to pursue a degree with the help of a reader for evaluating medical images such as X-rays, the Quad-City Times reports.

Cannon was admitted to the school in 2004, but dropped out in 2005 after disputes with school officials over his pursuit of a graduate degree, the ruling explains. The case has been working its way through the courts since.

In the court's majority opinion, Justice Daryl L. Hecht wrote that at least two blind students have graduated from Palmer in the past. And calls the school's claim that Cannon needs to see radiographic images "unpersuasive," because it admits a fifth of current chiropractors don't have the ability to take plain film radiographs at their office.

In addition, Hecht said the accommodations Cannon needs to complete the program are considered "reasonable" based on past court cases, and not allowing them is in violation of federal law.

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Thomas Waterman wrote the decision "elevates political correctness over common sense," and expresses concern over patient safety if an untrained expert is asked to relay visual information to someone who is blind. He writes:

"What is next? Are we going to require the Federal Aviation Administration to hire blind air traffic controllers, relying on assistants to tell them what is appearing on the screen? The principle is the same here. A misinterpreted X-ray could lead to improper treatment and lifelong paralysis."

In a statement from Palmer reported by the Quad-City Times, the school said legally blind students have graduated from Palmer before.

"Reasonable academic accommodations are designed to provide equal opportunity for students with disabilities," it said, "and may include such things as use of a private testing room, sign language interpreters and other accommodations."

Cannon is currently married with children, and an accessibility engineer at Instructure, Inc., according to his Twitter bio.

Cannon's admission to Palmer

According to the ruling:

Cannon was admitted to Palmer College in 2004, after meeting with a school representative and discussing potential accommodations that could be made for his condition. He completed his undergraduate curriculum with a 3.44 GPA – but in February of 2005, as Cannon was looking to enroll in the graduate program, the Palmer's Disability Steering Committee expressed doubt he'd be able to complete the graduate courses.

The committee said that once students began the radiology and diagnostics curriculum, Cannon would hit a "stoppage point" due to his blindness. Cannon suggested either a sighted assistant to explain the visuals to him (rejected because it would place too much responsibility on the assistant) , or a modification of the course requirements (rejected because it might violate Council of Chiropractic Education standards).

Cannon applied anyway, began coursework, but in June of 2005 withdrew from the program because because Palmer did not give indication they were pursuing further investigation, despite meetings and suggestions for a work-around from Cannon and others.

The case then went through a commission before heading to a district court, which ruled Cannon's accommodations were unreasonable. The ruling was appealed to the supreme court.

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