Yalie wins disability lawsuit

A Yale School of Medicine student affected by dyslexia will receive special testing accommodations for the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination after he was denied them twice.

Frederick Romberg MED ’12 will receive double the standard testing time and a separate testing area to take the examination as a result of a settlement reached by the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Board of Medical Examiners Feb. 22. in accordance with the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The settlement requires the board to provide reasonable testing accommodations to persons with disabilities who seek to take the test, a press release issued by the DOJ on February 22, 2011 stated. Romberg’s case, which was initially filed in January 2008 when the board refused Romberg’s request, has national implications for medical students with disabilities because it has introduced new guidelines for the administration of standardized exams.

“The settlement will change my life because I am confident that I will be able to do well on the exam now,” Romberg said. “I’m not the only one who’s had these problems across the country. It gives me great pleasure to know that other people in my situation will receive similar accommodations.”

Romberg said he first requested accommodations for testing in January 2008, but that his appeals were subsequently denied twice.

The purpose of the accommodations is to ensure that any examination, written or oral, is an accurate measure of an individual’s ability to demonstrate their knowledge, and not a measure of their medical condition, said Sally E. Shaywitz, a professor of learning development at the medical school.

“This settlement confirms and reaffirms that a person who is dyslexic can have high academic achievement but still be affected by the disability,” she said.

Shaywitz, who co-directs the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, said that dyslexia is defined as an unexpected difficulty in reading, in relation to a particular person.

Normally, reading and intelligence are dynamically linked: someone who can read well usually has a high level of intelligence. But in individuals with dyslexia, Shaywitz said, someone can be highly intelligent while still experiencing reading difficulties. Since reading is based on speaking, dyslexic individuals have a harder time accessing sounds based on words, even though they understand the meaning behind the words, she said.

“The ability to read varies very much for people with dyslexia because it’s harder for those affected — a striking one in five people — to read automatically,” Shaywitz said. “Sometimes it takes them twice as long, sometimes one and half times, to process the information contained in a passage.”

According to the DOJ press release, Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said that in the past, demands for unnecessary documentation, professional evaluations or evaluative testing prevented individuals with confirmed disabilities from pursuing their chosen professions.

Now, under the new agreement, the board will only request documentation about the existence of a physical or mental impairment in an applicant, whether the applicant’s impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities, and whether the impairment limits the applicant’s ability to take the test under standard conditions. Additionally the board will have to consider the recommendations of qualified professionals who have personally observed the applicant in a clinical setting.

“Too many people like Frederick have seen their hard work disregarded and their career paths disrupted,” Shaywitz said. “What testing agencies have tended to do is ask for a whole panoply of information and testing that wasn’t relevant for determining who had a disability. At the very least, the settlement acknowledges that it’s important to give careful consideration to the medical history of the specific individual who’s being evaluated.”

School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said Yale has not heard of any previous complaints about appropriate testing conditions for its students before, but added that the University does not administer these standardized tests and is thus not in a position to receive complaints.

Shaywitz said that Yale stands out as a place that understands dyslexia scientifically and provides support for students with the condition like Romberg’s.

“I don’t think that I could’ve gone to a more supportive place, a place that is more accepting of my dyslexia,” Romberg said. “It’s been a long road but I want people to know how much I appreciate the support from faculty like Professor Shaywitz. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

The settlement was reached under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by private testing entities that administer examinations related to professional licensing. The new regulations applicable to testing accommodations will go into effect on March 15, 2011.


  • Quals

    God I hope this person is never my doctor.

  • smartypants79

    What are the implications of a doctor that needs more time to process information? Couldn’t this be very risky? I would think that reading and processing information quickly is a key part of being a doctor. Right?

  • john238

    This is absurd. What I want to know is, why was he admitted to YALE of all places in the first place?

  • BrightSide2013

    Yeah, this is a bit worrisome. Still, there are positions that he could take that wouldn’t put his patients at risk. While being a surgeon or cardiologist would be unwise, going into dentistry (not oral surgery) or becoming a pediatrician would be more than reasonable. He must be a smart guy, I wouldn’t question his acceptance into Yale Med.

  • LizDunoon

    I feel a great need to point out that some of the most intelligent people in the world have dyslexia. In fact about 10% of the population do according to research. Think Albert Einstein. Leonardo Davinci, Richard Branson, Norman Rockefeller and yes even Doctors. I know an amazing surgeon who struggles with dyslexia. Carol Greider the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for medicine 2009 also suffers from dyslexia. A difficulty to process the symbols and sounds of the English language is very often associated with processing strengths in other areas visual, perceptual, mathematical, social oral, problem solving and strategic high level creativity in design and thinking.
    I have no doubt that this student will be an excellent doctor perhaps better than most.

  • uncommons

    @BrightSide2013 I completely agree. He’s probably a really smart guy who just reads slow. Not the biggest deal if he wants to be a dentist or a pediatrician like you said. Hypothetically though, let’s say a med student with dyslexia wants to become, say, an emergency room surgeon. Should that be allowed? I’m not totally sure if legally you could say no, since he has technically qualified by passing the licensing exam. Personally, I really wouldn’t want to let him be one. Again, completely hypothetical. Just trying to stir up a comment war.

  • inthemiddle2012

    @uncommons & @ BrightSide2013: Why do you imply that he would be capable of some specialties and not others? Are you implying that these specialties are easier? I hope not, because that’s the most ignorant thing I’ve heard.

  • BrightSide2013

    @inthemiddle2012: I’m not saying that they’re easier. I actually didn’t mean to say cardiologist in the last post. I just mean that certain types of surgery such as heart surgery or brain surgery might be dangerous for someone who is dyslexic if they’re fast decision making skills were impaired.

    I take back what I said though. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure dyslexia isn’t related to that. He’s surely an incredibly intelligent guy that just needs more time to read. Similarly, people that stutter aren’t less intelligent, they just have trouble speaking.

  • 3lmcity
  • Quals

    Obviously some specialties are easier! You think brain surgery and dermatology are on par?

  • Jaymin

    People, please take the time to actually learn what dyslexia is before commenting on it. Dyslexia is virtually uncorrelated with intelligence, i.e. it doesn’t affect cognition, decision-making, hand-eye coordination, or any of the other things needed by a good surgeon/physician. It’s simply a reading problem. And by some accounts, people with dyslexia in English have perfect language proficiency in differently structured languages like Chinese.

    This individual will make a fantastic doctor one day.

  • inthemiddle2012

    @Quals: I believe that it is misinformed to think that if someone is “incapable” of brain surgery for the reasons that some posters were touting above, that he or she would be “capable” of a “lesser” medical specialty (which doesn’t really exist), especially ones as challenging, although in different respects, as pediatrics. If you believe that a dyslexic would have an easier time in pediatrics than he would in brain surgery simply because he is dyslexic, then i doubt you know anything about medicine or dyslexia.

  • inthemiddle2012


  • Kimo

    By some of these comments it feels like the 1960s and people are debating whether Black Americans are qualified to vote or not (yes I know the 15th Amendment was passed in 1870 but implementation did not come until long after). As stated by other posters, please take the time to learn what dyslexia is before commenting on it.

  • Quals

    I know what dyslexia is, but I don’t belive in being PC when it comes to life and death situations. Sorry if that makes me a bad person.

    FACT: He apparently needs twice the time to read and process information.
    FACT: Certain medical professions require rapid thinking and acting in situations that involves reading information and data.

    • Tom

      In medicine the need for accuracy outweighs speed. What good is a faster doctor if they get the job wrong. So faster and better are two totally different things. Faster doctors mess people up every day. And just because somebody is a brain surgeon and they don’t have dyslexia doesn’t mean they were the best person for the job. I know a brain surgeon who failed said usmle exam twice and he’s a brain surgeon just because he knew somebody. So don’t think so highly of brain surgeons or physicians in general to think that people with dyslexia can’t do the same or a better quality job. These people made it through medical school with dyslexia, and that’s twice as impressive as making it through without it. And while you are at it you might as well hope that you don’t get a doctor who only has that job because they knew somebody, which unfortunately is not uncommon in the medical profession.

    • Tom

      It is not like you have to be faster than a speeding bullet to be a doctor. Whether a doctor has dyslexia or not is more insignificant than significant. The slight reading speed difference is not significant. And how do you explan all the people who don’t have dyslexia who could not get into medical school if their life depended on it? And how do you explain the people with dyslexia who are better doctors than people without it? How do you explain the people with dyslexia who score higher on exams than the people without it? What a huge assumption. That’s just like assuming that people can beat up everybody who is physically smaller than them. If you have two doctors there and one has dyslexia there is no gaurantee that the one without dyslexia is the better doctor. People with dyslexia who are doctors have other skills that are heightened to make up for their slightly slower reading just like a blind person has heightened hearing or smell. And surgeons don’t read on the operating table they operate. Doctors with dyslexia they don’t do everything slower they only read a little slower and reading is not in the operating room. So sombody with dyslexia could easily, very easily learn to outperform somebody without it. Dyslexia is a learning/reading disability, not a performing disability.

  • Tom