Blind World Magazine

Blind student files complaint against College.

October 24, 2005.
Traverse City Record Eagle, Michigan.

Traverse City resident James Schmidt has filed a complaint against Northwestern Michigan College for not providing textbooks on audio tape.

TRAVERSE CITY - A legally blind man filed a federal complaint against Northwestern Michigan College, saying the school shirked its responsibility to provide him textbooks on audiotape.

A complaint James Schmidt, 59, filed with the U.S. Department of Education on Aug. 24 is in mediation. But a federally appointed mediator recently threatened to terminate Schmidt's case because he spoke about it to a reporter.

"If the guy wants to operate in the press, I'll close the case," said William Gill, who's mediating the case for the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service.

Jack Buettner, eastern region director of the mediation service, backtracked on Gill's comments when contacted by the Record-Eagle.

He said the agency does not close cases because a party discusses it publicly.

"It's an individual's right," Buettner said. "I can't control an individual."

John Arnold, director of public affairs for the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, said the agency will look into Gill's comment.

"We're going to make an inquiry into this case and see if everything was conducted according to protocol," he said.

Mediation is expected to be completed by the end of the month.

Schmidt, of Traverse City, filed the complaint because he said the college balked at expenses related to his disability.

"Everything was going fine until they found out I was legally blind and they might have to provide books on tape and maybe an aide," Schmidt said. Those concerns caused snags that kept him from enrolling in fall classes as he'd hoped, he said.

A college official said NMC is trying to work with Schmidt, but he has not provided all the federally required information to process his financial aid application.

"We've been trying to work with him and, hopefully, we'll get the information we need," said Chuck Shreve, dean of student services.

"We have an exemplary special-needs program," he added. "It's just a matter of getting him registered."

Schmidt's handwritten complaint states that college officials "do not want to order books on tape or enroll me in classes because I am blind and as they stated they will incur extra expenses."

He added he has been approved for "100 percent financial aid."

"They tell me it would be $400" to tape the books, he said.

Schmidt said he has since learned he can have them taped for $50 through the Michigan Library for the Blind.

"I'll pay the $50," he said.

Schmidt said he is waiting for the complete list of what the college needs. That includes transcripts from other colleges he's attended and documentation on his financial status.

Schmidt's caregiver, Wendy McIntire, said Schmidt has also shown the college proof that he receives Supplemental Security Income and has shown his driver's license, which lists him as "legally blind."

"Every time I supply something, they come up with something else they want," Schmidt said.

McIntire said the mediator plans to ask the college to send Schmidt a letter outlining all the documents they need to address his eligibility for financial aid.

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