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Queen's University
 

Howard

Just how far does the duty to accommodate university students with disabilities go?  Just where does undue hardship begin?

Facts:

In 1989, a profoundly deaf student with limited external funding withdrew from a teaching certificate program offered at U.B.C. when the university refused to provide him with interpreter services at a cost of $40, 000 a year .The university argued that according to internal policy, it was not obligated to provide accommodation services to students doing a second degree. Howard's complaint was heard by the B.C. Council of Human Rights, that decided that the university had violated s.3 of the Code in refusing Howard services on the basis of physical disability. It ordered the university to accommodate the student and to refrain from further acts of adverse discrimination. Howard v University of British Columbia (No.2) (1993) 21 C.H.R.R. D.142.

Questions:

  1. Did the university discriminate against a physically disabled member of its public by refusing to provide him with accommodation which would enable him to profit fairly from this service?
  2. Does 40.000 a year constitute an undue hardship defense?

Ruling:

  1. Yes
  2. No

Reasoning:

  1. Education is a service customarily offered to the public of the university. Under s.3 of the Code, the university is therefore obligated to provide this educational service without discrimination to persons with disabilities. This means accommodating for the student's disability, and in this case providing interpreter services.Obliging Howard to provide his own interpreter services is therefore an act of adverse discrimination because it places an unfair financial burden on him because of his disability.
  2. Even though the impact of accommodating the complainant would incur significant hardship, it does not constitute undue hardship, especially given the size of the university with an annual budget of $700, 000, 000, half of which is discretionary funds.

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000