Special Olympics Supports Student's Legal Battle

May 25, 2010

In December, a U.S. District Court judge in Michigan ruled that Oakland University had discriminated against Micah Fialka-Feldman, a student with an intellectual disability, when officials decided he could not live in on-campus housing.

He lived in the dorm for a semester, as a true example of inclusion, but the same privilege may be denied to others, as the college has appealed the ruling.

The case will now go before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District. To show its support for the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities, Special Olympics and disability-rights groups have filed an amicus brief in the case. Calling Micah a pioneer, the brief argues that he is simply exercising his rights granted by established civil rights laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Special Olympics recognizes the historical importance of this case. If the circuit court agrees with the lower court’s findings, it will be the first to determine that qualified students with intellectual disabilities who attend college or transition programs may participate in on-campus housing.

Research by Special Olympics and others have shown that this type of inclusion has a positive effect for both people with and without intellectual disabilities. Studies show that students who live on-campus perform better academically than students who live elsewhere, and students without disabilities benefit from a diverse environment, including interacting with people with intellectual disabilities. In its ruling, the district court found that Micah “contributes to the academic environment” of the school.

Other organizations listed as authors of the brief include Counsel for the National Disability Rights Network, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, the American Association of People with Disabilities, The Disability Rights Clinic of Syracuse University’s College of Law, and the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network.

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