UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
OFFICE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS
April 20, 1999
Robert C. Maxson
(In reply, please refer to Docket Number 09-99-2041.)
Dear President Maxson:
On December 17, 1998, the U.S. Department of Education (Department), Office for Civil Rights (OCR), received a complaint alleging that the California State University, Long Beach (University) failed to provide a student with the accommodations required by her disability (blindness) in order to access the College of Business curriculum and other educational programs.
OCR has jurisdiction over the subject matter of this complaint and over the University under both Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities (Title II), which prohibit recipients of Department funds and/or public institutions, respectively, from discriminating against persons with disabilities.
Specifically, the complainant alleges that:
1) The computer laboratories/classes in the College of Business are not equipped with adaptive technology so that she can take courses such as Business and Information Systems, which is a prerequisite to her obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in her major Business Management.
2) Her course assigned textbooks, which contain substantial amounts of graphs and charts, were not made accessible to her.
3) With respect to a particular Business Management course, the instructor refused to provide her access to overhead transparencies and to implement the appropriate accommodations for the course's final examination.
4) The doors of the offices of the College instructors are not marked in a manner that enable her to identify the occupant instructor.
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II) requires a public college to take appropriate steps to ensure that communications with persons with disabilities "are as effective as communications with others" [28 C.F.R. § 35.160(a)]. OCR has repeatedly held that the terms "communication" in this context means the transfer of information, including (but not limited to) the verbal presentation of a lecturer, the printed text of a book, and the resources of the Internet.
Title II further states that, in determining what type of auxiliary aid and service is necessary, a public college shall give primary consideration to the requests of the individual with a disability [28 C.F.R. § 35.160(b)(2)].
In construing the conditions under which communication is "as effective as" that provided to nondisabled persons, on several occasions OCR has held that the three basic components of effectiveness are timeliness of delivery, accuracy of the translation, and provision in a manner and medium appropriate to the significance of the message and the abilities of the individual with the disability.
The courts have held that a public entity violates its obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act when it simply responds to individual requests for accommodation on an ad-hoc basis. A public entity has an affirmative duty to establish a comprehensive policy in compliance with Title II in advance of any request for auxiliary aids or services [see Tyler v. City of Manhattan, 857 F. Supp. 800 (D.Kan. 1994)]. A recognized good practice in establishing such a comprehensive policy is to consult with the disability community, especially those members most likely to request accommodations.
As universities have striven to provide effective communication to students with disabilities with respect to computer technology, traditionally the academic community has relied heavily on a single centralized unit on campus to house and maintain the specialized adaptive technology equipment. This practice has been seen as a method for enabling a small number of staff with adaptive technology expertise to serve a relatively large number of students with disabilities. However, such sole reliance upon a single centralized location (when not limited to adaptive technology training, but instead used for instructing disabled students in course subject matter) may run counter to the strong philosophy embodied in Title II and Section 504 regarding the importance of fully integrating students with disabilities into the mainstream educational program, unless such services cannot be otherwise effectively provided [see 34 C.F.R. § 104.4(b)(iv); 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(b)(iv)]. Thus OCR assumes in most cases computer access will be effectively provided to the student with the disability in an educational setting with his or her nondisabled peers and classmates at the various computer laboratory sites scattered throughout the campus.
In most OCR cases, at any point prior to completion of the investigative stage of the case, the college may indicate that it is interested in exploring voluntary resolution of the issues identified in the case. A commitment by the University to voluntarily resolve the issues usually substantially reduces the necessity for further investigation and may eliminate the need for OCR findings of compliance and/or noncompliance. In this case, the University elected to proceed toward voluntary resolution.
By letter received April 1, 1999, the University provided OCR with a voluntary resolution plan which resolves the issues raised in this case. This plan includes the following commitments (as well as others): The University will:
1) Develop and implement a written procedure describing which campus units are responsible for installing and maintaining adaptive workstations situated in College and central computer laboratories.
2) Develop and implement a systematic method for ensuring that the issue of accessibility to persons with disabilities, particularly blind persons, is taken into account when colleges purchase computer technology (software and hardware).
3) Develop and implement a systematic method for informing campus employees who design/select web pages for use by students to make sure the web pages are in accordance with principles known to maximize accessibility to users with disabilities, including visual impairments.
If you have further questions regarding this letter, please contact Sarah Hawthorne, Civil Rights Attorney, at (415) 556-4146.
Robert E. Scott
cc: Barbara J. Franklin, Acting Director, Equity and Diversity
Copyright © 1998