A Clear Standard

Regarding DOJ Settlement with Louisiana Tech University Concerning Inaccessible Course Materials

Yesterday (July 23, 2013) the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a settlement agreement with Louisiana Tech University resolving a complaint about inaccessible course materials. The DOJ’s summary of the obligation sends a clear message:

“…the University must implement a policy that requires the deployment of accessible technology and course content in the University setting. To that end, the University shall conduct a review of the accessibility of its technology and instructional materials and shall ensure that, from the effective date of and consistent with the Settlement Agreement, all technology, including websites, instructional materials and online courses, and other electronic and information technology for use by students or prospective students, is accessible.” (Paragraph 13(a), [emphasis added]).

A look at other recent collaborative enforcement efforts by the DOJ and The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights clarifies the statutory standard for “accessible”. The Department of Education’s agreement with the South Carolina Technical College System last March stated:

“‘Accessible’ means a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally effective and equally integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use. The person with a disability must be able to obtain the information as fully, equally and independently as a person without a disability. Although this might not result in identical ease of use compared to that of persons without disabilities, it still must ensure equal opportunity to the educational benefits and opportunities afforded by the technology and equal treatment in the use of such technology.” (Resolution Agreement South Carolina Technical College System OCR Compliance Review No. 11-11-6002, [emphasis added])

Alongside the Federal enforcement efforts is the settlement brokered with UC Berkeley by Disability Rights Advocates last May. This Berkeley settlement establishes clear timelines and responsibilities for producing accessible alternatives including faculty selecting material, students requesting alternatives, and production by disability resources.

These agreements do not have the precedential authority of a Supreme Court decision but do provide a clear understanding of how the enforcement agencies interpret our obligation under the ADA. This is particularly true when you consider trends defined by the 2010 joint Dear Colleague letter on electronic readers, the 2011 Accessible Instructional Media Commission’s report, and the proposed development of web accessibility standards on the DOJ’s Fall Regulatory Agenda.

What does this mean for our campuses?

Have a plan:

  • Campuses should review their current use of technology, web based tools, and information for accessibility.
  • Develop a strategic plan for access that is integrated with your institution’s overall technology plan and includes time frames for replacing inaccessible technology and opportunities to reprioritize based on ongoing feedback from students with print disabilities.
  • Identify workarounds, accommodations, and supports, including the use of readers/scribes when no alternative will work to address short term gaps.

Refine Policy:

  • Identify a functional standard for access (substantially equivalent ease of use in the same place and at the same time as other students).
  • Identify a technical standard for access (Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines provide good benchmarks).
  • Clarify alternative media responsibilities and time lines.

Train:

  • Administers
  • Faculty
  • Students

References:

Agreement:

Settlement:

Fact Sheet:

PowerPoint Handout:

Joint Dear Colleague Letter: Electronic Book Readers (Departments of Justice & Education)

Q&A:

Accessible Instructional Materials Commission Report: