Stanford Under Fire for Denying Scribe to Disabled Student

In essays that ultimately convinced Stanford University to accept his application, Antonio Milane described the incredible odds he beat to even consider such an elite institution.

The soon-to-graduate high school senior from Paloma Valley High School in the Southern California town of Menifee wrote about how doctors didn’t expect him to survive infancy, let alone childhood with severe cerebral palsy. He wrote about how his immigrant parents endured “all the tolls that come from inhabiting a new country” while helping him navigate life with a mobility-limiting neurological disability.

“Throughout my school career,” he said, “my parents struggled to get me support.”

Meetings about what devices and other accommodations he required to succeed academically dragged on for hours, he said, and often to little avail. He wrote about having to become his own advocate while still in middle school because of his father’s death and his mother’s language barrier as a native Spanish speaker.

“When I entered high school,” Milane continued, “officials took advantage of my naivety and made me believe that I did not need supports.”

Though advanced-placement course concepts seemed easy enough for him, Milane said he couldn’t fulfill writing assignments without a scribe. “This created a lot of frustration inside me,” he wrote, “because I knew that I was capable of more. However, my broken hands would make it impossible for me.”

It wasn’t until the second semester of sophomore year that the school gave him all the accommodations he needed. Milane said the yearslong battle gave him the courage to fight for his own rights and those of other disabled students. “My dream,” he pronounced in his college application, “is to make the world accessible for people like me.”

A few months ago, Milane received an acceptance letter from Stanford University, where he plans to study politics and computer science in hopes of later attending law school to become a disability rights attorney.

But almost as soon as he celebrated a dream come true, he found himself in an all-too-familiar fight—only this time with tens of thousands of people cheering him on.

Nothing Personal

The latest battle began shortly after the New Year.

On Jan. 11, while recovering from a bout with Covid-19, Milane found out that while the university’s Office of Accessible Education (OAE) agreed to hire a scribe for labs, tests and lectures, he’d be on his own for homework. As OAE Director Teri Adams explained in an email to the prospective freshman, that’s because anything outside class would be considered a “personal service,” and thus beyond the school’s obligation to provide.

Milane’s requests for out-of-class writing help were denied again on Jan. 25. Emails he sent between meetings imploring Stanford to reconsider went unanswered, he says. Instead, Stanford suggested he go to the school’s financial aid office or find support from nonprofits such as the Opportunity Fund or Silicon Valley Independent Living Center. Milane obliged, requesting help from all three.

By press time, none had responded with any guarantee.

In early February, Milane escalated his pleas to Carleigh Kude, Stanford’s assistant OAE director, who again declined the requested accommodation. Stanford’s ADA compliance officer, Rosa Gonzalez said the same and noted that Milane has no right to appeal the decision until he’s a matriculated student.

He tried one more time on Feb. 22 only to hear the same answer.

Finally, and he says reluctantly, he went public.

Civil Writes: Alexis Kallen has cerebral palsy and attended Stanford University before becoming a Rhodes Scholar and then enrolling in Yale Law School. She offered to help advocate for Antonio Milane after hearing his plea on social media. (Photo via Facebook)

On Feb. 22, Milane took to Instagram, where he uploaded a screenshot of Stanford’s most recent email reiterating the decision to deny scribing services for homework.

“I could really use your help right now,” he wrote in the caption, where he introduced himself, described his disability and detailed his futile attempts to get Stanford to grant his request. “I will not be able to attend Stanford if I do not get this scribe,” he explained. “If you could please share this post, it would mean a great deal.”

Milane’s plea, which he followed up with a video, went viral. Campus journalists at the Stanford Daily picked up the story, amplifying his call for support under an article headlined, “Ableism is Real at Stanford.”

Alexis Kallen saw Milane’s plea on Instagram and reached out.

As someone with cerebral palsy who attended Stanford before becoming a Rhodes Scholar and enrolling in Yale Law School, the 24-year-old says Milane’s message reminded her of how she felt at his age, on the brink of so much opportunity but shouldering the added burden of having to fight for certain accommodations.

“As someone who has been a student with a disability at Stanford, I can’t say I was surprised at what Antonio was going through,” she says in a recent phone call. “So I told him that I understand, that I have a passion for these issues and was happy to help write emails or letters or whatever he needed.”

Kallen told Milane about Sylvia Colt-Lacayo, who found herself in much the same predicament a couple years ago.

In 2019, as an incoming 18-year-old freshman with a degenerative neuromuscular disease, Colt-Lacayo realized it was up to her to figure out how to pay for the 18 hours of personal assistance doctors said she’d need to live on campus.

It took months for Colt-Lacayo to solve her conundrum. The Oakland teen turned to GoFundMe, raising $8,000—enough for a month of care. A family member offered to loan her the rest. Eventually, she found out through a fellow Stanford student about a program to fund additional accommodations through the California Department of Health Care Services. She applied, and, despite a two-year waiting list, got a nurse to reevaluate her needs in a matter of weeks.

Still, Colt-Lacayo told the Los Angeles Times in 2019, “you have to fend for yourself to find this information. So many people don’t end up achieving their goals because they don’t know how to get the care they need.”

Despite medical advances that have improved and prolonged the lives of disabled youth, they face enormous barriers once they try to leave home. While the government pays to place them in nursing facilities, home-based care is systemically underfunded.

All of which, Kallen says, should be a non-issue for an institution as monied as Stanford.

Michele Dauber, a Stanford law professor who has called the school to task over its treatment of other vulnerable students, echoes the sentiment.

“I am dumbfounded that this is even a question,” she says. “Antonio needs scribe support to do his homework. Stanford’s refusal to provide this support is just like asking a student in a wheelchair to pay for their own ramp to get to class.”

Legal Standing

Even if Stanford has a legal right to deny Milane a homework scribe, that doesn’t mean it should—especially as an academic powerhouse with a $28 billion endowment and a professed commitment to diversity, Kallen says. High schools often meet a higher standard of disability accommodations with far fewer resources, she noted.

“If Stanford is going to accept applications from people with severe disabilities, then they need to be able to provide them with the accommodations that made them successful in the first place,” Kallen tells San Jose Inside. “I think that should be part of their commitment to being an inclusive university.”

Stanford spokeswoman E.J. Miranda touted that commitment when asked for comment.

“Our goal is to ensure that students with disabilities have their individual needs addressed, so they can take advantage of every academic opportunity the university provides and maximize their access,” he wrote in an email to San Jose Inside Monday.

OAE, he continued, “provides academic and housing accommodations for students with disabilities through an interactive, individualized assessment process. Our advisers work closely with students to understand their unique disability experiences and determine appropriate accommodations.”

Though Miranda declined to comment on Milane and his needs specifically, for privacy’s sake, he says Stanford helps students find other resources for accommodations “outside of what is covered” by the OAE.”

In an Instagram video posted Monday after Milane’s latest meeting with university officials, he lamented wasting another hour of his life to hear the same refrain. “They basically told me that Stanford doesn’t have the resources to accommodate every disabled student at their school,” he said, “and that they’re going to struggle to do that.”

When reached the next morning, Milane said that his only other option is to appeal to the public. It’s tough, he adds, because he doesn’t like to ask others for money.

Absent a legal challenge or legislative fix, however, that may be the only recourse.

“It’s unfortunate,” Kallen says. “People with disabilities are so segregated and so often don’t get into these levels of society or education because of barriers like a lack of access. Personally, I was the first disabled person that a lot of the people I knew at Stanford ever were friends with, and because I was there, so many of them went on to their careers thinking about how to make spaces for the disabled community.”

At least fellow students and people far beyond Stanford are stepping up, she says. By press time, a Change.org petition urging the university to pay for Milane’s homework scribe garnered well over 52,000 signatures.

“That blew my mind,” Milane says. “I didn’t think that many people would care.”

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

9 Comments

  1. Stanford has a long history of poor attitudes when it comes to special needs kids. One football administrator has had a notorious record for lying and rotten behavior to young people seeking his help. The university is an elitist, nasty and corrupt institution with football team administrators who are cruel to peopie.

  2. It seems Universities want the students for “inclusiveness” but don’t want the responsibility of providing the services.

  3. Learn the law before you spout nonsense.

    Postsecondary schools are not obligated under to provide personal services relating to individual academic activities. Personal attendants and individually prescribed devices or services outside the classroom are the responsibility of the student who has a disability and not of the institution. For example, readers may be provided for classroom use but institutions are not required to provide readers for personal use or for help during individual study time.

    #Dauberisanidiot

  4. How about setting up a gofundme page for this kid and contributing instead of lecturing the school?

  5. NO JUST NO, How about setting up a Go Fund Me page for him yourself instead of scolding others?

    I have great sympathy for people with severe disabilities. We’re supporting a step daughter whose disabilities make Mr. Milan’s look like a hangnail, so forgive me if I lack the requisite sympathy.

    Ms Kallen says providing a scribe to do Milan’s homework for him “should be a non-issue for an institution as monied as Stanford,” and the perennially opinionated Michelle Dauber agrees, saying Milan “needs scribe support to do his homework.”

    Why would he need someone to do his homework for him? There are a number of apps that accurately transcribe text to voice, and voice to text. And Mr. Milan already has an in-class assistant. Now he wants another assistant to do his homework for him.

    If Stanford caves it will set a precident, and every school from rich Stanford to poor San Jose City College will be pestered until they cater to similar students who immigrate here with their hand out. Furthermore, the bar will be lowered like it’s on a ratchet, and the number of ‘disabled’ students entitled to paid assistants will multiply like guinea pigs.

    Where does society draw the line? Is there even a line? Or are we expected to do whatever is necessary, no matter what it costs — up to and including spending the country’s entire GDP on one individual? If anyone argues that Stanford should be obligated to cater to Mr. Milane, please tell us where you think society should draw that line.

    Finally, if the 52,000+ ‘Change dot org’ co-signers actually cared about Milane’s problem, they would surely be willing to donate, say, $10 to help him — if they really cared. With half a million dollars, Milane could hire assistants to do his homework, and chew his food, and whatever else he wants, with money left over.

    Mr. Milane can succeed without being a public burden — if he wants to. Ms. Kallen has cerebral palsy, and she became a Rhodes Scholar without a personal homework assistant.

    It’s easy to tell others to pay for yet another entitled individual who apparently doesn’t have a single friend he can ask for a copy of their homework. Instead, Mr. Milane complains about “wasting” an hour to meet with Stanford officials to beg for a free homework assistant. Another insufferable apologist says, “he doesn’t like to ask others for money.”

    Then don’t. Instead, do what it takes to develop America’s unique “Can Do” attitude. Students with more severe disabilities than Milane’s have done what it takes to succeed without having highly paid personal assistants doing their homework for them. If they can do it, so can Mr. Milane.

    Mr. Milane needs to give up his entitled mentality and look for a workaround that doesn’t involve digging his fingers deeper into the school’s pocketbook. That’s how he can earn respect — along with some urgently needed self respect, too.

  6. This story makes me very angry. Under ADA Title III an institution like Stanford is required by law to make “reasonable accommodations” to a disabled student. The law applies to individual teachers and professors as well as to the university bureaucrats.

    If a professor is going to require students to do homework as part of their class participation, and the homework requires typing or writing something and “hanIn ding it in”, then it IS part of the academic program, and Stanford is required by law to accommodate the student by either:

    (a) Exempting the kid from the homework requirement as part of his class participation and grade or

    (b) Providing a scribe.

    The people in the University’s administrative office who are telling this kid “No scribe” come off as completely illiterate, and probably intellectually disabled themselves. That is no excuse for Stanford to break the law.

    If Stanford chooses the “Exempt the kid from homework” approach then they are going to have to educate each of the student’s professors/teachers, who as a matter of law will have to accept the university’s decision and not in any way penalize the kid for not doing homework.

    In my own very, very smart but physically disabled daughter’s state-law-mandated attendance at grades 7-12 in the Clark County School District in Nevada we found that arrogant, egotistical teachers in “honors” programs were absolutely unwilling to allow my daughter in their program let alone accommodate her. I spent countless hours having to argue with Special Ed Coordinators, Assistant Principals and Principals that they were failing in their duty to formally direct and instruct teachers that they must comply with the Principal and my agreements as to what the individual teachers had to do to comply with the ADA as applied to my daughter. Particularly, teachers who had tenure thought they could “do whatever they wanted” to her in the classroom and in school assignments. My conservative estimate is that the arrogant teachers and one principal at the high school called Las Vegas Academy gave us at least 6 separate Americans With Disabilities Act violation lawsuits against the school district. I would always name the obstinant, law breaking teacher as a defendant, and the the school district’s lawyers would always immediately force the discriminatory recalcitrant teacher or principal to knuckle under.

    I always shook my head at the mental and emotional defects of individual school system employees who were unwilling to comply with the ADA and the Federal regulations under it, as well as common sense and treat my disabled student kindly and decently.

    I am truly sad to read this article about Antonio Milane’s problems with the law-breakers employed by Stanford University.

    The kid needs a California-licensed lawyer NOW to sue Stanford University and its individual employees for violating the ADA, so that the problem gets resolved before Antonio’s Freshman year at Stanford starts in August 2021.

  7. Amazing, simply amazing. Here we are in 2021 and we still do not understand why disabled children, especially in this case, have to fight for their own help. Shame on you Stanford, I was born there at your hospital a LONG time ago, but now I may not tell the next person that because I am ashamed of how elitist your institution has become and I wouldn’t want them to now “turn their nose up at me” now.

    As a father of an Autistic son, who was actually sent to be seen by your doctors there who came back with a diagnosis of “clumsy child syndrome” (no, I’m not making that up) only to find out later he was later correctly found to have Aspberger’s Syndrome (high functioning Autism), we had to practically fight his entire childhood for what he rightfully deserved for his individual education. Every quarter, we’d have the I.E.P’s (Independ. Ed. Program) review and plan and have to threaten lawsuits, etc. to get what they never wanted to give him. Ms. Shaw’s memories brought back mine. Instead of the understanding that including a child like mine into a regular class, one that he could succeed in, so that the children in that class could learn to accept someone different, they wanted to put him in classes of much more severely disabled children. Well, he graduated high school, but he wanted nothing to do with college, he was tired of not being accepted. I wonder how many thousands of kids are like him, more than smart enough to go, but don’t want to because teachers, administrators, etc. made it unwelcome to. What are you saying Stanford? This young man WAS accepted by you, but wait, we don’t want to really help educate him, he’s ON HIS OWN.

    Here’s what really pisses me off about all this. A few years ago, I dated a very sweet lady who worked for you in the office that handled alumni donations. She was underpaid and said staff there is often, she was often recruited by other colleges with higher salary offers, but she declined them all because she LOVED working there. One day, she received a check from an alum who had passed away. A man they had zero contact with unlike the ones they routinely solicit for donations. His check? FOURTY MILLION DOLLARS. Now, that was just ONE CHECK. She received many per day of lesser amounts, but most in the know understand the endowments that Stanford receives. If there are approximately only 8,000 underclassmen, I would think there is a very small number who are in a similar situation as Mr. Milane is. I mean, what could this help cost out of your Multi-Billion Dollar budget.

    But I guess when it comes to money, you are “hoarding” it for yourselves. From the multi-million dollar homes you own in the foothills west of campus, to the Billions of dollars in real estate your campus sits on and you receive rents on, to your under-paid staff, you CAN AFFORD to care, you should care, but you choose NOT TO CARE!. Shame on you and I hope that future,outstanding potential students, especially ones with a relative with disabilities “crosses you off their college list”. That will “cost” you more than what Mr. Milane would.

  8. “The kid needs a California-licensed lawyer NOW to sue Stanford University and its individual employees for violating the ADA, so that the problem gets resolved before Antonio’s Freshman year at Stanford starts in August 2021.”

    I couldn’t agree more!!

  9. “A man they had zero contact with unlike the ones they routinely solicit for donations. His check? FOURTY MILLION DOLLARS. Now, that was just ONE CHECK. She received many per day of lesser amounts, but most in the know understand the endowments that Stanford receives. If there are approximately only 8,000 underclassmen, I would think there is a very small number who are in a similar situation as Mr. Milane is. I mean, what could this help cost out of your Multi-Billion Dollar budget.”

    When I got to the part in your story of the Stanford woman and the generosity of the donor, I threw my head back in thankfulness knowing there ARE those who see and care about the needs of others.

    I would think, if this story got out to the alumni, they would see it more fitting to donate to this young man’s need if a scribe instead of to the college. It could also go to suing the college.

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