Nova Scotia

Dalhousie University student with visual impairment alleges discrimination

An engineering student with a degenerative eye condition has filed a complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission after Dalhousie University staff did not abide by recommendations from his doctors and vision experts.

Doctors said student should be given digital copies of textbooks and shared notes, but he wasn't

Amik Malik has a deteriorating genetic eye condition that makes it difficult for him to see objects or people directly in front of him. (Brett Ruskin / CBC)

A Dalhousie University student with a degenerative eye condition has filed a complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission claiming that the university did not make the necessary arrangements to allow him to succeed.

Most people who know Amit Malik don't know he has trouble seeing.​ He can walk down the street without a cane or guide dog. But the 23-year-old engineering student has juvenile macular degeneration.

"Everything's still there," he said. "It's just a little blurry. The details are hard to see."

Doctors and the CNIB recommended that Dalhousie provide basic accommodations to help him keep up in class. These included:

  • lecture notes from professors before class.
  • digital copies of textbooks (to increase the font size).
  • copies of class notes from a fellow student.

Failing to provide help

Malik and his lawyer claim Dalhousie failed to provide the accommodations.

"He [Malik] reached out to the university in terms of electronic textbooks and providing notes in advance," said Barry Mason, Malik's lawyer. "They were just not accommodating. They were just not prepared to do it.

Lawyer Barry Mason says this is a clear-cut case of discrimination. (Brett Ruskin / CBC)

"This is a clear-cut case of discrimination — a failure to accommodate by a service provider," he said.

Malik is still in school, one year behind his classmates. "I should've had an engineering job by now," he said.

Dalhousie committed to accessible campus

Janet Bryson, a representative for Dalhousie, said the school would not comment on the case out of respect for the student's privacy and the Human Rights Commission complaint process.

She did say the university is "committed to ensuring our campus is accessible for our students, staff, and faculty. For students, the university's work is governed by Dalhousie's Student Accommodation Policy." 

That policy, posted online, states: "Students experiencing barriers to participation in a University activity due to a characteristic protected under human rights legislation are entitled to accommodation to reduce or eliminate such barriers up to the point of undue hardship."

Claim could be dismissed

Even though Malik's lawyer is confident, there's a strong chance their fight could soon be over.

Mason said an investigator from the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission has recommended that Malik's case be dismissed.

This week, commission members are meeting to decide whether to agree with the investigator's findings, or send the case to a board of inquiry.

"My experience, over the past 15 years of doing human rights cases, is that the commission has been dismissing meritorious claims — and a lot of them," said Mason.

He said 99 per cent of claims are dismissed without being thoroughly analyzed.

The commission's most recent statistics, from 2016, show it received 2,300 inquiries and accepted 97 complaints.

Not all inquiries are formal complaints, said Jeff Overmars, a commission representative. He said the commission receives many inquiries about how to access government services. 

Is money the answer? 

Mason says funding for the commission could be lacking.

"It could be resources," he said. "It could be that they can't hear 1,500 complaints a year. And if that's the case, then they need to get out of the business.

"If they don't have the resources to do it, then the legislation should be in place to allow people to take these cases to the Supreme Court to have them heard on the merits of the case."

The commission said the number of complaints vary from year to year. Last year the commission accepted 113 complaints for investigation, Overmars said.

"Regardless of funding, the commission strives to fairly and completely carry out its mandate," he said.

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia 

About the Author

Brett Ruskin

Reporter/Videojournalist

Brett Ruskin is a reporter and videojournalist covering everything from local breaking news to national issues. He's based in Halifax.

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