Deaf Student at UC Berkeley Denied Interpreters, Sparking Protests and CAD Activism

March 21, 2017



There was a protest yesterday with around 80 students at the University of California, Berkeley — to support a Deaf student and other disabled students who struggled to get accommodation for their education. 


A Deaf PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley — Nancy Barker — was at the protest. 


She had recently made complaints about the university’s refusals to provide her with needed ASL interpreting services.


Nancy is a visiting student researcher from Canada and is studying ecological sciences and conservation. 


You might have seen her making videos on location in Africa with wild animals behind her. She did five years of work in Africa and has extensive data. 


She got an opportunity to be a Visiting Student Researcher to study under one of the top professors/researchers in the U.S. in her field, but she said the university’s DSP (Disabled Students’ Program) made it very difficult for her to get the interpreters she needed. 


In an video interview with the California Association of the Deaf (CAD), Nancy said in January of last year, UC told her that it was not their responsibility to provide an interpreter. She left after a month (she had a limited time there).   


When she returned in August of last year, she was denied interpreters again. She did not have any interpreters for the first 12 weeks out of the semester’s 15 weeks. 


She had to contact many people within the university for support — then in November, the university agreed to provide interpreters, but would only give her “good enough” services (not what Nancy requested — interpreters for classroom, lab time, meetings with researchers, and various activities related to her study. 


In December, she had a meeting with the Assistant Vice-Chair, who agreed that it was “not right” and said the university would provide full accommodations. 


Nancy was happy about this and returned to the campus January of this year. 


The first two weeks was great for her, she had 21 hours a week of interpreting — but after two weeks, the university changed and cut down the services by 80%, only giving her 8 hours a week — interpreting for classroom teaching but nothing for the outside-of-classroom meetings or activities. 


DSP also told her she had to make requests at least a week in advance and could turn it down if there was “insufficient information” — even turning down because there was not a zip code provided (even though it was an on-campus event). 


DSP also would call the professors or labs to confirm if an interpreter was needed — and it caused Nancy to feel like a “child in need of supervision” or like a second-class citizen. 


This struggle has caused Nancy to “lose hope” that she will be able to publish her research/dissertation and get her doctorate degree and continue to advance in her profession. 


Nancy had financial backing from the UC department who invited her — but the money is running out without her getting adequate education to complete her research analysis. 


The CAD posted a petition on to bring more attention to this. CAD said the university has violated the ADA act. They’ve demanded the university to extend financial backing for her position to Fall Semester 2017, provide Nancy with 30 hours of interpreting services a week for this semester and the Fall semester, and for her to be able to schedule it without going through the DSP, and no reprisals. 


This is not the first time UC Berkeley had a conflict with Deaf people. Last year, several Deaf people (who were not a part of UC) objected that UC’s free online courses did not have any closed-captioning and filed a compliant with the U.S. Dept. of Justice. The DOJ concluded that the university was in violation of the ADA. The university responded by taking down all of its free online courses, saying they did not have the money to pay for captioning. A lot of people were angry the videos were taken down, but that’s what happened. 


We’ll see what happens with Nancy’s education at UC Berkeley. Hopefully they will change and provide her with the interpreters she needs. 


UC Student Protest:

Article about Nancy Barker:
CAD Interview/Petition:

DOJ Decision (Online Courses):

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