Letter to City College of San Francisco Part 1

OCR DOCKET NUMBER: 09-97-2145.RES
LOF ISSUE DATE: 01/09/98
NAME OF SIGNER: ADRIANA CARDENAS

Chancellor/President Del M. Anderson
City College of San Francisco
50 Phelan Ave, E200
San Francisco, CA 94112-1898

(In reply, please refer to Docket Number 09-97-2145.)

Dear Chancellor/President Anderson:

On June 12, 1997, the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), received a complaint alleging that the City College of San Francisco (College), a California Community College, failed to provide to a blind student (complainant) a Braille translation of a textbook assigned during the Spring 1997 semester.

OCR has jurisdiction over the College under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II), which prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability by recipients of federal funds and public entities, respectively. The College is both a recipient of federal funds and a public entity. At this time, contingent upon the College’s implementation of its plan submitted to OCR on December 29, 1997, OCR finds the College in compliance.

Obligation to Provide Textbook in Meaningful Alternative Format

Under Title II, a public college is required “to take appropriate steps to ensure that communications with students are as effective as communications with others… In determining what type of auxiliary aid and service is necessary, a public entity shall give primary consideration to the requests of the individual with disabilities” [28 Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) § 35.160].

OCR has repeatedly interpreted the term “communication” in this context to mean 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. In construing the conditions under which communication is “as effective as” that provided to nondisabled persons, on several occasions OCR has regarded the three basic components of effectiveness as 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.

With regard to the “significance of the message” of a textbook, OCR notes that a course-assigned textbook constitutes a core component of the post-secondary academic curriculum. A course-assigned textbook is customarily the primary reference tool upon which the student is expected to rely. Moreover, the content structure of the course is often closely correlated to the textbook such that it is difficult to actively learn and participate in the classroom if the student is unfamiliar with the assigned textbook material. Finally, through examinations the student is ordinarily held accountable for knowing the information in the assigned portions of the textbook.

One of the courses taken by the complainant during Fall 1996 and Spring 1997 was a course specifically designed to assist students in taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), a standardized test administered nationally by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). The textbook “Longman Preparation Course for the TOEFL” (hereinafter TOEFL textbook) was the primary educational resource used inside and outside the classroom in this course. The complainant requested the Disabled Student Program and Services (DSPS) Office to translate the TOEFL textbook as an accommodation to her disability (blindness).

OCR finds that the College’s responsibility to provide the complainant communication “as effective as” that provided to nondisabled students required the College to provide the complainant a meaningful alternative format of the TOEFL textbook.

Determining Appropriate Alternative Format

One of the most difficult tasks facing colleges today is providing textbooks in a timely accurate complete appropriate alternative format to students with print impairments. OCR experience is that, with respect to rendering course-assigned textbooks accessible to blind students, currently most colleges rely almost exclusively on the auditory medium, specifically either personal readers or audio-cassettes from sources such as Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic.

However, in some situations, the subject matter of the textbook is particularly ill-suited to an auditory translation. For example, mathematics and science textbooks, as well as textbooks to assist in acquiring proficiency in a written (rather than conversational) foreign language, ordinarily rely heavily on unique symbols, equations, charts, grids, subscripts, punctuation, underscores, and accent marks, which are often hard to effectively convey through auditory speech. Unfortunately, the type of subject matter for which auditory speech is least appropriate is often the same type of subject matter that may be the most expensive and time-consuming to translate into electronic/Braille, because the standard optical character recognition scanner is usually not adequate for converting the specialized non-narrative print into a meaningful electronic/Braille format.

Section 504 implementing regulation [34 C.F.R. § 104.43(c)] prohibits colleges from excluding students, on the basis of disability, from any “course of study.” As OCR has stated in prior opinions [OCR Case Docket No. 09-91-2157 (January 15, 1992)], “Failure to translate specialized material, such as mathematical symbols and equations, into a language [e.g., Braille] specifically created to communicate such material to the visually impaired, has the result of strongly deterring visually impaired students from taking courses, or concentrating in areas, that involve higher mathematics [or other “courses of study” whose printed information is expressed in special symbols or punctuation].”

Besides the problem of translating certain types of subject matter into a meaningful auditory medium, there are additional problems in using a personal reader to make a large volume of printed material, such as an entire textbook, accessible. When a college offers a personal reader as the means for translating a textbook into an alternative format, the student with the print impairment is asked to set aside significant blocks of time which must be coordinated with the schedule of the reader(s) so that both are present at the same time and place on campus. Such coordination may be especially difficult for a blind student whose mobility is ordinarily dependent upon public transportation or other third person drivers. As to the role of the student with the disability in asking fellow classmates to act as a personal reader, some students prefer to secure their own service provider, while other students are highly reluctant or even unwilling. Some students with disabilities state that having to personally approach fellow classmates to request special services (even when offering compensation) undercuts their ability to establish peer relationships.

In addition to the difficulties commonly associated with the use of personal readers (e.g., adequate supply, scheduling conflicts, reliability, acceptable speaking voice), when a student is in the process of learning English as a Second Language (ESL), comprehension of information presented in spoken English is significantly less than would be expected of a native English-speaking blind student, and any foreign accent by a personal reader would be more problematic than usual.

Finally, a personal reader (unless recorded) provides only one time exposure to the information and does not allow the student to independently refer back when studying on his/her own. Even when the personal reader is informally audiotaped, such recordings do not allow the student efficient internal document flexibility to move between topical headings and from page to page. Thus, when later attempting to review materials, the student generally finds it very time consuming to wind and rewind, play and replay, the collected audiotapes in order to locate specific information. Consequently, personal readers are often most effectively used for materials that a student will not be frequently referencing. For a discussion of features to consider when making a textbook accessible in alternative format, see the report “Accessibility of Information in Electronic Textbooks for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired,” presented by the Texas Education Agency to the Texas Legislature, at .

The facts of this particular case illustrate many of the above problems encountered by colleges when attempting to provide textbooks in an alternative format. During the Spring 1997 semester, the complainant asked the College to translate three course-assigned textbooks: “Focus on Grammar,” “In Our Own Words,” and the TOEFL textbook.

The College states that “Focus on Grammar” was made accessible to the complainant through an already existing audiotape. The College states that “In Our Own Words” was provided in Grade 2 Braille (229 printed pages or 350-450 Braille pages) through the efforts of a “typist proofreader” who input the text using an Apple scanner, Ramsley converter software, and a Versapoint Braille printer. OCR notes that during the Spring 1997 semester the College also translated approximately 80 printed pages of class handouts into Grade 2 Braille for the complainant, as well as Brailling certain practice examinations, three of which are from the TOEFL textbook. The College estimated that, when translating into Braille, on average 10-15 printed pages per week was “an amount that could be provided without delay.” During the Spring 1997 semester, a total of approximately 410 printed pages were converted into Braille for the complainant. (In the College’s experience, one typed page converted to about one and a half to two pages of Grade 2 Braille.)

For reasons discussed below, the College relied on personal readers to translate the TOEFL textbook from hard copy print to alternative format.

Letter continued, read Part 2!