National Federation of the Blind Comments on Iowa Supreme Court Case Regarding Blind People Entering the Chiropractic Medicine Field

 In Advocacy

Burlington, Iowa (November 4, 2013): The National Federation of the Blind, which has led the fight for the equality of blind Americans for over seventy years, today commented on the landmark case of Aaron Cannon and Davenport Civil Rights Commission v. Palmer College of Chiropractic, which will decide whether blind individuals can still pursue a career in chiropractic medicine.  At issue in the case is Palmer’s academic policy requiring that all students seeking a doctor of chiropractic degree must possess “a sufficient sense of vision.”  As part of a public outreach effort, the Iowa Supreme Court will hold oral arguments in the Cannon case on Tuesday, November 5, at the Edward Stone Middle School in Burlington, Iowa, at 7:00 pm. 

“We believe Palmer’s policy of requiring vision blatantly discriminates against the blind,” said Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind.  “Blind individuals have successfully practiced as chiropractors for several decades, and many of them have graduated from Palmer.  If the Iowa Supreme Court allows Palmer’s policy to stand, the effect will be that blind persons will not be able to pursue a chiropractic education and thus not be able to obtain licenses to practice in this field.”

In 2005, Aaron Cannon, who is totally blind, started taking classes at Palmer College of Chiropractic to obtain his doctor of chiropractic degree.  His pursuit of the degree halted due to Palmer’s policy requiring vision.  In order to graduate, Cannon filed a complaint with the Davenport Civil Rights Commission alleging that Palmer discriminated against him on the basis of disability.  After an administrative trial and a thorough review by the seven-member commission, the Davenport Civil Rights Commission ruled that Palmer had discriminated on the basis of disability and ordered Palmer to reinstate Cannon with all necessary accommodations and to pay him compensatory damages and attorney fees.  Palmer then appealed the case to the Iowa District Court for Scott County where the Honorable Judge Gary D. McKenrick reversed the Commission’s decision and ruled that vision is an essential part of a chiropractic education.  The Davenport Commission and Cannon then appealed Judge McKenrick’s decision to the Iowa Supreme Court resulting in Tuesday’s oral argument.

Palmer claims that chiropractic students must be able to view x-rays, MRIs, and other radiographs with their own eyes and cannot use a sighted reader to obtain the information being presented.  Dr. Duane Hudspath, a Palmer graduate, testified at the Cannon administrative trial that he used sighted readers during his chiropractic education and was able to acquire the necessary information to receive a quality education and therefore become a highly competent chiropractor.  Hudspath has run a successful chiropractic practice in Stephen’s City, Virginia, for nearly twenty years and has treated several thousand patients without difficulty.

Aaron Cannon is being represented by Scott C. LaBarre of LaBarre Law Offices P.C. in Denver, Colorado, and Alan O. Olson of Olson Law Offices in Des Moines, Iowa.  LaBarre, a blind attorney from Denver, will deliver the oral argument on behalf of Cannon.

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