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The Union Leader (Manchester, NH)


HANOVER — In a lawsuit filed against Dartmouth College, a student who has been touted by the Ivy League school for her accomplishments as a legally blind Paralympian and member of the Dartmouth equestrian team, the school is accused of not making the proper accommodations in the classroom for her disability. Staci Mannella, 21, a Dartmouth junior from Randolph, N.J., was born with achromatopsia, a genetic disorder that is characterized by decreased vision. Mannella is pursuing a degree in pre-veterinary science and came to Dartmouth after competing as a Paralympic Alpine skier."I love that I am on the Dartmouth equestrian team because it's kind of the first time that I've been able to compete with able-bodied athletes, too," Mannella said in a video posted on the college's sports website. "It's really cool now that I can see that I can kind of hold my own."In the video, Dartmouth riding coach Sally Batton said the Dartmouth staff was excited to have an Olympic athlete, but were unsure how Mannella would handle riding different horses since she was used to riding her own. It turns out that wasn't a problem, Batton said in the video."She's can ride any horse.

She's developed her other sense and horses love her," Batton said. "She's not Staci with the visual disability. She's just Staci."Mannella said she chose Dartmouth because she could ski and ride horses in the Upper Valley and because of the school's reputation for high academics.However, in the lawsuit filed in the federal U.S. District Court of New Jersey, her academic pursuits at Dartmouth were thwarted by Dartmouth administrators who did not provide her with the resources she needed to pursue her degree.She is seeking $75,000 in damages.Dartmouth, she said, did not provide note takers for class as well as reading material for her courses in a format she could read.The lawsuit states she was also not provided with test readers and in some cases tests could only be taken by those with vision."She failed her first biology test because the test required her to identify microscope images which are very visual," the lawsuit said.When she approached the professor during the test for help, the lawsuit said, the professor told her that the course "was very visual and that" she "should think about transferring to a school that was less academically challenging, with a longer term and slower curriculum."Additionally, professors who were using visual presentations in the classroom refused to provide the same information in a format readable by someone visually impaired, the lawsuit said."Dartmouth disputes the claims that Staci has made in her lawsuit alleging that the College failed to provide the accommodations that she needed to be successful in the classroom. We continue to work with Staci to provide the resources she needs to achieve both academically and athletically. She is a valued member of our community," Dartmouth spokesperson Diana Lawrence said in an email Monday."We are going to decline to comment further on pending litigation."


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