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Deaf Student Claims Medical School In Yakima Denied Him Access

Courtesy of Zachary Featherstone.
Zachary Featherstone poses with his wife and daughter.

A man who was admitted to the Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences in Yakima, only to be told it couldn't make special accommodations for his disability,is suing the school claiming discrimination.

Zachary Featherstone is deaf. When he asked for interpreters and captioning devices, the Yakima school denied the request saying doing so might compromise the training of other students and put patients at risk.

Other medical schools have trained deaf doctors, from family practice physicians to surgeons, as evident in this YouTube video of a deaf student at UC Davis School of Medicine taking part in an operation.

Mary Vargas, Zachary Featherstone's attorney, says she’s surprised by the Yakima school’s stance. She says what Featherstone ultimately wants to do is serve the deaf community.

"I know that Pacific Northwest University prides itself on working to reach underserved populations, so we’re very disappointed that they didn’t reconsider their decision,” Vargas said.

In an email, Keith Watson, president of Pacific Northwest University, said he’s not in a position to respond to the legal action regarding Featherstone’s enrollment because of federal laws regarding student privacy.

He does say, however, that the school is a “compassionate and caring learning community” and takes care in the decisions it makes. 

As KPLU reported, Featherstone’s attorney, Vargas, successfully took on Creighton University Medical School on behalf of another deaf client.

She says these sorts of cases are coming up now, because disabled people, who historically didn’t have equal access to earlier education, do now have access.

"And, as a result of that access, they’re stellar students who can do everything but hear and now they’re running up against this glass ceiling in professional education,” Vargas said.

Vargas is suing Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences under both state and federal disability laws.  The first court hearing on the suit is scheduled for July 22 in Yakima.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.