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Ohio Supreme Court Ends Blind Woman’s Dream of Medical School

August 1, 1996

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ A blind woman lost her struggle to become a psychiatrist Wednesday when the state’s Supreme Court ruled that a medical school did not violate her civil rights by denying her admission.

The school said it was concerned about her inability to observe symptoms and perform numerous medical procedures.

Cheryl Fischer, 32, had argued that being a psychiatrist, which requires the same basic training as being a medical doctor, would not require the same visual skills in practice.

``Everyone has limitations,″ said Ms. Fischer, who lost her sight in high school, but went on to earn a chemistry degree with honors from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. ``Psychiatry is one area where I could use my skills, and my weaknesses wouldn’t matter.″

But the court ruled that Case Western did not discriminate against Fischer when it rejected her applications in 1987 and 1988 because of her blindness. Fischer had also applied to, and been rejected by, several other medical schools around the country.

Justice Deborah Cook, writing for the majority, said the university had shown the Cleveland woman would not be able to complete a modified program.

Civil rights laws require schools to make ``reasonable accommodations″ and modify programs for disabled students. The court said accommodations in this case would be too cumbersome and costly.

But Justice Alice Robie Resnick, one of three dissenting justices in Wednesday’s ruling, said the university had not investigated all possible modifications to its program.

``This is a case of prejudice, pure and simple,″ she wrote.

University spokesman George Stamatis said the university based its decision on Association of American Medical Colleges standards.

``There are technical standards the school has to adhere to, and sight is a requirement for medical training,″ Stamatis said.

But Marc Maurer, president of the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind, said his organization knows of at least 30 practicing doctors who are blind.

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission had ruled in Fischer’s favor, and the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court agreed. But the 8th Ohio District Court of Appeals in Cleveland overturned the ruling.

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