Distance Education Access Guidelines for students with Disabilities

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Distance Education Access Guidelines for students with Disabilities

Guidelines available as Adobe PDF

    Distance Education: Access Guidelines for Students with Disabilities

    August 1999

    Chancellor’s Office California Community Colleges

    Distance Education: Access Guidelines for Students with Disabilities

    August 1999

Developed By:

    The High Tech Center Training Unit

    In Collaboration with the

    Distance Education Accessibility Workgroup Chancellor’s Office California Community Colleges

    Distance Education and Accessibility Guidelines Task Force Members

    Name: Ralph Black, Esq.

    Title: General Counsel

    Affiliation: Chancellor’s Office, CCC

Name: Carl Brown

    Title: Director, High Tech Center Training Unit Affiliation: De Anza College

    Name: Laurie Vasquez

    Title: Assistive Technology Specialist Affiliation: Santa Barbara City College Name: Cris Mora Lopez

    Title: Distance Education Coordinator Affiliation: Chancellor’s Office, CCC Instructional Resources and Technology

    Division, Distance Education

    Name: Brain Haley

    Title: Dean of Library/Learning Resource Center Affiliation: Sierra College

    Name: Jay Thompson

    Title: Executive Director

    Affiliation: Consortium for Distance Learning Name: Nancy Glock-Gruenich

    Title: Specialist in System Advancement Affiliation: California Virtual University/COCCC Name: Catherine McKenzie

    Title: Telecommunications Mgr. - Specialist Affiliation: Chancellor’s Office, CCC Instructional Resources and Technology Unit, Office of

    Telecommunications and Technology

    Name: Cheryl Chapman

    Instructor, Faculty Trainer, Academic Senate Affiliation: Coastline College

    Name: Catherine Campisi

    Affiliation: Chancellor’s Office, CCC Title: Dean, Student Support Programs Name: Jose Michel

    Title: Senior Coordinator Distance Education Affiliation: Chancellor’s Office, CCC

Table of Contents

    Preface 7

    Legal Requirements 9

    Basic Requirements For Providing Access 13

    Access Guidelines for Specific Modes of Distance Education Instructional Delivery 17

    Print Media 19

    Audio Conferencing 20

    Video Conferencing/Video Transmission (Live) 22

    Video Transmission (Pre Recorded) 24

    World Wide Web 26

    Instructional Software, Laser Video Disc, CD ROM, DVD 29

    Trace Research & Development Center Accessibility Guidelines 30 Appendix I 37

    Copyright Issues 39

    Braille 43

    Braille Production Facilities 49

    A Guide To Large Print For People With Low Vision 51

    Appendix II 55

    Telephone Relay Services 57

    Real-Time Transcription 58

    Interpreter Services 59

    Appendix III 63

    Captioning 65

    Basic Captioning Terms 67

    Captioning Service Providers 71

    Appendix IV 73

    WAI Guidelines for Accessible Web Site Design 75

    Appendix V 85

    Microsoft’s Checklist of Accessibility Design Guidelines 87 Software Design Guidelines (TRACE Research Center) 95


    In March 1996, the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights notified Chancellor Thomas J. Nussbaum that it was about to begin a statewide compliance review under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The compliance review would focus on the status of community colleges in meeting their obligation under Title II and Section 504 to provide students with visual impairments access to print and computer-based information. The review was to examine whether students with visual impairments, particularly blind students, were accorded an equal educational opportunity by California Community Colleges or whether they were being discriminated against on the basis of their disability. Specifically, OCR wished to consider whether the Chancellor’s Office employed "methods of administration" which substantially impaired accomplishment of the objectives of the California Community College educational programs with respect to students with visual impairments.

    As an outcome of this review, OCR offered nine suggestions for addressing areas of concern identified by the review. Among the suggestions/concerned voiced by OCR was the need for development of system-wide access

    guidelines for distance learning and campus Web pages. In a January 22, 1998 letter to Chancellor Nussbaum, Stefan Rosenzweig, Regional Director of OCR stated:

    "California Community Colleges, individually and collectively as

    part of the California Virtual University, are rapidly developing

    their capacity to deliver educational programs to offsite students

    through technology. Little attention is being given to ensure that

    these distance learning programs are accessible to students

    with disabilities, especially students with visual impairments." He further added:

    "The need for guidelines regarding distance learning has been

    recognized by several different entities in the California

    Community College system, including the Academic Senate

    which in Fall 1997, adopted "Guidelines for Good Practice:

    Technology Mediated Instruction." It is OCRs understanding that

    four regional distance learning centers to assist in development

    of program and course materials will be set-up in 1998-99. The

    concept of accessibility should be firmly integrated into such


    In responding to the Regional Director’s suggestions regarding development of system-wide access guidelines for distance learning and campus Web pages, in a letter dated March 13, 1998, Chancellor Nussbaum replied:

    "We concur with the strategies related to this issue. I will

    immediately direct that the Chancellor’s Office Task Forces

    related to distance learning as well as California Virtual

    University have persons on them to specifically address access

    issues for persons with disabilities…To assure that the

    necessary guidance to colleges is available, I will specifically

    ask Vice Chancellor of Educational Services and Economic

    Development, Rita Cepeda, whose staff oversees the distance

    learning issues, to develop in cooperation with the DSP&S Unit

    and the High Tech Center Training Unit (HTCTU), guidelines for

    distance learning to assure it is accessible to and usable by

    persons with disabilities."

    The guidelines which follow are the result of Chancellor Nussbaum’s directive.

Legal Requirements

    Both state and federal law require community colleges to operate all programs and activities in a manner which is accessible to students with disabilities. Accordingly, as the system develops its capacity for creation of technology

    based instructional resources and the delivery of distance learning; it must proceed with the needs of all students in mind, including the unique needs of students with disabilities.

    At the federal level, requirements for access for persons with disabilities were first imposed on recipients of federal funding by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. 794) and its

    accompanying regulations set forth at 34 C.F.R. 104. Similar requirements were later imposed on all public entities, regardless of whether or not they receive federal funding, by the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. Sec. 12100 et seq) and the regulations implementing Title II of the ADA which appear at 28 C.F.R. 35.

    In particular, the Section 504 regulations and the regulations implementing Title II of the ADA contain nearly identical provisions stating that recipients of federal funds and public entities in providing any aid, benefit or service, may not afford a qualified individual with a disability an opportunity to participate that is not as effective as that provided to others. (See 34 C.F.R. 104.4 (b)(1) (iii) and 28 C.F.R. 35.130(b) (1) (iii)). Title II recognizes the special importance of communication, which includes access to information, in its implementing regulation at 28 C.F.R. 35.160 (a). The regulation requires that a public entity, such as a community college, take appropriate steps to ensure that communications with persons with disabilities are as effective as communications with others.

    The United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for ensuring that all educational institutions comply with the requirements of all federal civil rights laws, including Section 504 and Title II of the ADA. As a result, the opinions of OCR are generally accorded considerable weight by the courts in interpreting the requirements of these laws. OCR has had occasion to issue several opinions applying the requirements of the Section 504 and ADA

    regulations to situations involving access to distance education and/or computer-based instruction. In responding to a complaint by a student with a disability alleging that a university had not provided access to the Internet, OCR noted that:

    [T]he issue is not whether the student with the disability is

    merely provided access, but the issue is rather the extent to

    which the communication is actually as effective as that

    provided to others. Title II [of the Americans with Disabilities Act

    of 1990] also strongly affirms the important role that computer

    technology is expected to play as an auxiliary aid by which

    communication is made effective for persons with disabilities.

    (OCR Docket No. 09-95-2206, January 25, 1996)

    Adding additional clarity to the meaning of "effective communication," OCR has held that the three basic components of effective communication 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."

    (OCR Docket No. 09-97-2145, January 9, 1998)

    OCR also points out that the courts have held that a public entity violates its obligations under the ADA when it only responds on an ad-hoc basis to individual requests for accommodation. There is an affirmative duty to develop a comprehensive policy in advance of any request for auxiliary aids or services.

    Finally, in considering the magnitude and responsibility of this task, OCR states:

    [T]he magnitude of the task public entities now face in

    developing systems for becoming accessible to individuals with

    disabilities, especially with respect to making printed materials

    accessible to persons with visual impairments, is comparable to

    the task previously undertaken in developing a process by which

    buildings were to be brought up to specific architectural

    standards for access. Buildings in existence at the time the new

    architectural standards were promulgated are governed by

    "program access" standards. However, buildings erected after

    the enactment of the new architectural standards are strictly

    held to the new standards on the premise that the builder is

    onnotice that such standards apply. One who builds in disregard

    of those standards is ordinarily liable for the subsequent high

    cost of retrofitting.

    Similarly, from the date of the enactment of Title II onwards,

    when making purchases and when designing its resources, a

    public entity is expected to take into account its legal obligation

    to provide communication to persons with disabilities that is "as

    effective as" communication provided to non-disabled persons.

    At a minimum, a public entity has a duty to solve barriers to

    information access that the public entity’s purchasing choices

    create, particularly with regard to materials that with minimal

    thought and cost may be acquired in a manner facilitating

    provision in alternative formats. When a public institution selects

    software programs and/or hardware equipment that are not

    adaptable for access by persons with disabilities, the

    subsequent substantial expense of providing access is not

    generally regarded as an undue burden when such cost could

    have been significantly reduced by considering the issue of

    accessibility at the time of the initial selection. (OCR Docket No.

    09-97-2002, April 7, 1997)

    There are also state laws and regulations which require community colleges to make their distance education offerings accessible to students with disabilities.

    Government Code Section 11135 et seq. prohibits discrimination on various grounds, including mental or physical disability, by entities receiving funding from the State of California. The Board of Governors has adopted regulations at Title 5, California Code of Regulations, Section 59300 et seq. to implement these requirements with respect to funds received by community college districts from the Board of Governors or Chancellor’s Office. These regulations require community college districts and the Chancellor’s Office to investigate and attempt to resolve discrimination complaints filed by students or employees.

    In addition, the Board of Governors has adopted Title 5 regulations setting forth the general requirements applicable to all independent study (Sections 55300 et seq.) and those requirements specific to distance education courses (Sections 5370 et seq.). Section 55370 expressly states that the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act are applicable to distance education courses.

    The remainder of this document sets forth guidelines developed by the Chancellor’s Office to address specific issues community college districts will face in meeting their legal obligation to make distance education courses accessible to students with disabilities. These guidelines are not legally binding on districts, but the Chancellor’s Office will apply these guidelines in determining whether a district has met its obligations under Title 5, Section 55370 and 59300 et seq. Districts which follow these guidelines will generally be regarded as having met those obligations. Districts which do not follow these guidelines will bear the burden of demonstrating that they have achieved compliance with their legal obligation to provide access to distance education for students with disabilities by other means.

Basic Requirements for Providing Access

    The following are general principles that should be followed in ensuring that distance education courses are accessible to students with disabilities. They represent the general concepts of the ADA and its regulations but do not provide a detailed legal analysis of the ADA requirements. Persons utilizing this document who are unfamiliar with the ADA may wish to consult the campus ADA Coordinator or DSP&S Coordinator for further interpretation. In the remainder of this document, specific guidelines will be provided for resolving access issues with respect to particular delivery modes commonly used in distance education.

    1. One of the primary concepts of distance education is to offer students "Learning anytime, anywhere." Therefore, all distance education resources must be designed to afford students with disabilities maximum opportunity to access distance education resources "anytime, anywhere" without the need for outside assistance (i.e. sign language interpreters, aides, etc.).

    2. Distance education resources must be designed to provide "built-in" accommodation where possible (i.e. closed captioning, descriptive narration) and/or interface design/content layout which is accessible to "industry standard" assistive computer technology in common use by persons with disabilities.

    3. Whenever possible, information should be provided in the alternative format preferred by the student (i.e. sign language interpreter, closed captioning, descriptive narration, Braille, audio tape, large print, electronic text). When choosing between possible alternative formats or methods of delivery, consideration should be given to the fact that methods which are adequate for short, simple or less important communications may not be equally effective or appropriate for longer, more complex, or more critical material (Example: Use of a telephone relay service may be an acceptable method for a faculty member to respond to a brief question from a deaf student during his/her office hours, but probably would not be appropriate as a means of permitting that same student to participate in a class discussions in a course conducted by teleconference.) Issues concerning accommodation should be resolved through appropriate campus procedures as defined under Title 5, Section 56027.

    4. Adoption of access solutions which include assigning assistants (i.e. sign language interpreters, readers) to work with an individual student to provide access to distance education resources should only be considered as a last resort when all efforts to enhance the native accessibility of the course material have failed.

    5. Access to distance education courses, resources and materials include the audio, video and text components of courses or communication delivered via satellite, Instructional Television Fixed Services (ITFS), cable, compressed video, Local Area Network/Wide Area Network (LAN/WAN networks), Internet, telephone or any other form of electronic transmission. Access to resources and materials include the audio, video, multimedia and text components of Web sites, electronic chat rooms, e-mail, instructional software, CDROM, DVD, laser disc, video tape, audio tape, electronic text and print materials. Where access to Web sites not controlled by the college is required or realistically necessary to completion of a course, the college must take steps to ensure that such sites are accessible or provide the same material by another means that is accessible.

    6. Distance education courses, resources and materials must be designed and delivered in such a way that the level of communication and course taking experience is the same for students with or without disabilities. 7. After the adoption date of these guidelines, any distance education courses, resources or materials purchased or leased from a third-party provider or created or substantially modified "in-house" must be accessible to students with disabilities unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the instructional activity or result in undue financial and administrative burdens on the district.

    8. Colleges are encouraged to review all existing distance education curriculum, materials and resources as quickly as possible and make necessary modifications to ensure access for students with disabilities. At a minimum, the Chancellor’s Office will expect that the curriculum for each distance education course and its associated materials and resources will be reviewed and revised as necessary when the course undergoes curriculum review pursuant to Title 5, Sections 55002 and 55378, every six years as part of the accreditation process. In the event that a student with a disability enrolls in an existing distance education course before this review is completed, the college will be responsible for acting in a timely manner to making any requested modifications to the curriculum, materials or resources used in the course, unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the instructional activity or result in undue financial and administrative burdens on the district.

    9. In the event that a discrimination complaint is filed alleging that a college has selected software and/or hardware that is not accessible for persons with disabilities, the Chancellor’s Office and the U.S. Department of Education , Office for Civil Rights will not generally accept a claim of undue burden based on the subsequent substantial expense of providing access, when such costs could have been significantly reduced by considering the issue of accessibility at the time of initial selection.

    10. In all cases, even where the college can demonstrate that a requested accommodation would involve a fundamental alteration in the nature of the instructional activity or would impose an undue financial and administrative burden, it must nevertheless provide an alternative accommodation which is equally effective for the student if such an accommodation is available. 11. Ensuring that distance education courses, materials and resources are accessible to students with disabilities is a shared college responsibility. All college administrators, faculty and staff who are involved in the use of this instructional mode share this obligation. The Chancellor’s Office will make every effort to provide technical support and training for faculty and staff involved in the creation of accessible distance education courses, resources and materials through: campus representative(s) to the California Virtual University (CVU) Regional Distance Education Center, staff from the local Regional Distance Education Center(s), campus High Tech Center staff and High Tech Center Training Unit staff.

    Access Guidelines for Specific Modes of Distance Education Instructional Delivery

    1. Print Media

    The use of “correspondence” has a long history in distance education and will likely continue as an element of some courses. Print-based materials are

    easy to handle, modify, distribute and store. Print materials allow students to work at their own pace.

    Delivery Medium - Print Medium

    Access Issue

    Students who are blind or have low vision will be unable to read print material. Some students with severe learning disabilities may also be unable to effectively read print materials.


    Provide print material in alternate formats including: Braille, large print, audiotape, digital sound files and e-text. Whenever possible, information should be provided in the alternative format preferred by the student. Analysis:


    Braille can be produced in a variety of formats designed to accommodate specialized needs such as scientific notation and music scores. For general text production, materials should be provided in Grade 2 Braille. Grade 2 Braille is the format most commonly used by persons who are blind. Braille can be produced “in-house” using readily available Braille translation software and specialized Braille printers or out-sourced to agencies and organizations which produce Braille documents commercially. As of 1999, colleges wishing to produce

    Braille documents in-house should expect to pay around $5000 for the necessary printer hardware and software. Commercial production costs average about one dollar per Braille page with one single spaced print page equaling approximately two print Braille pages. Production time through commercial providers can vary from days to weeks.

    In either case, Braille documents should be formatted to preserve critical page layout elements (i.e. columns, tabular data, etc.) and proofed for accuracy. Large Print

    Large print documents printed from electronic files should be produced using a font size of 14 point (or larger) and sans serif type faces such as Helvetica for visual clarity. Documents should be reformatted as necessary to preserve critical page layout elements. All colors should be set for maximum print contrast.

    Audio Tape

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