Issue nothing new for hearing-impaired students
Carbonear man dropped MUN course in 2008 after prof failed to use device
When Tim Noel of Carbonear heard about a Memorial University student’s decision to drop a class after a professor refused to wear a device that helps him listen to lectures, he was immediately sympathetic.
That’s because seven years ago, he encountered a similar dilemma while in his third year of studies at the university.
“I can understand why he would be so upset and why he would go to the Human Rights Commission about it, because if I had my time back, I would have done the same thing,” Noel told The Compass last week.
MUN student William Sears recently went public about his attempts to convince history professor Ranee Panjabi to wear a wireless microphone that would transmit to his hearing aid. Panjabi refused, reportedly citing her religious beliefs.
The story has since attracted national media attention, and the university’s president Gary Kachanoski offered an apology to Sears. The student has filed a complaint with the province’s Human Rights Commission.
“The fact William Sears had the courage to come forward — I admire him for that,” said Noel.
Prof wouldn’t wear device
In 2008, Noel was enrolled in a religious studies course at the St. John’s campus. Up till then, Noel encountered no issues with getting his professors to use the wireless microphone, though a couple he would need to periodically remind. The professor for this course, who no longer teaches at that campus, agreed to wear the device for the first class.
For the second class, the teacher told Noel to leave the microphone on his desk and said he would put it on before the lecture started. But that did not happen.
“He’d just continue on with his lecture, and obviously I couldn’t hear him,” Noel said, noting the microphone needs to be physically worn in order for him to hear what’s being said in a classroom environment.
Noel approached the professor after class and reiterated the importance of wearing the device. But nothing changed with the next class, and Noel said the teacher never really offered an explanation for why he wouldn’t put it on.
“I think he just often times forgot that it had to be worn,” said Noel.
Dropped the course
He went to the Blundon Centre, which serves students with disabilities, and was presented with two options — Noel could drop the course or continue to take it and remind his professor to use the microphone. He chose the former route.
Seeing others come forward with similar stories since Sears’ situation first made news last week, Noel felt it was important to add his voice to the mix. He believes MUN could do more to accommodate hearing-impaired students.
“No teacher should deny a student from being taught the sub- ject that they want to learn,” said Noel.
He later attended College of the North Atlantic and was impressed with how far the disability co-ordinator went to ensure his needs were met in class.
Noel hopes Kachanoski takes the issue seriously and finds a way to make things right for Sears and other hearing-impaired students attending MUN.
A similar incident involving Panjabi and a student reportedly happened in 1996. She subsequently obtained an agreement with MUN that exempts her from wearing wireless devices. Last week, the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association issued a news release that said it has asked the university to review the legality of such an agreement.
“For nearly 20 years, MUN has fostered an environment whereby Dr. Panjabi’s religious rights have trumped the disability rights of students with hearing loss. When balancing competing or conflicting human rights, respectful and creative consideration often results in an equitable balancing of these rights; MUN failed to undertake this consideration.”
Kachanoski confirmed last week the university is reviewing that agreement.
Tim Noel of Carbonear dropped a course at Memorial University in 2008 after his professor repeatedly failed to wear a device that would enable the hearing-impaired student to listen to lectures.