Letter to City College of San Francisco Part 2

Continued, read Part 1.

The TOEFL textbook contains numerous charts and grids that, for sighted students, are more effective than narrative description in presenting information such as verb conjugation and grammatical sequencing. The TOEFL textbook also frequently uses special punctuation, underscoring, subscripts, and accent marks to assist the sighted reader in comprehension and pronunciation. The College stated that its DSPS optical character recognition scanner, used to convert hard copy print into Braille, was not adequate for purposes of translating the TOEFL text, not only because of the type of printed text involved, but also because during Spring 1997 DSPS staff/equipment was already operating at capacity to translate into Braille other course-related materials for the complainant. The DSPS staff contacted the American Printing House for the Blind, who indicated that the process of translating the TOEFL textbook into Braille “could take anywhere from six months to one year. The Braille copy would then be sold to the [College] District for several thousand dollars, depending on length.”

In its written Data Response to OCR, the College stated that the DSPS counselor discussed the difficulty of translating the TOEFL textbook into Braille “many times” with the complainant “who acknowledged the problem and agreed that she did not need the Braille and that the reader/assistant could read the TOEFL material to her.” In interviews with OCR, the complainant states that she was always clear that what she needed was a Braille translation, but that since the College indicated that translation of the TOEFL textbook into Braille was not a feasible option, she “agreed” to take whatever accommodation could be made available.

The College indicated to OCR that it believed a personal reader was an adequate method for translating the TOEFL textbook for the complainant because the prior semester (Fall 1996) when taking the same TOEFL course the complainant had used one personal reader throughout the semester and, according to the College, this arrangement had been satisfactory to the complainant. (OCR notes that the complainant, after taking the TOEFL course the first time in Fall 1996, did not pass the TOEFL test taken Spring 1997.) The College explained that this personal reader did not merely read the printed TOEFL text aloud, but instead attempted to be highly interactive with the complainant so as to try to make as clear as possible the non-narrative text, with its underscoring, accents, subscripts, etc. In short, the College described the role of this personal reader in many ways as more akin to that of a tutor rather than a reader who merely reads the printed text aloud word for word. The College indicated that the students recruited to provide this audio-interpretation of the TOEFL textbook had no special training in how to teach English as a Second Language or in how to most effectively read aloud specialized text such as underscoring, subscripts, charts, etc.

OCR finds the evidence indicates that the personal readers/assistants provided by the College during the Spring 1997 semester did not provide the complainant communication “as effective as” that provided to sighted students who were able to read the printed text in the TOEFL textbook.

Role of Textbook Publishers

As evidence of its good faith efforts to provide the complainant a Braille translation of the TOEFL textbook, the College described to OCR efforts made to obtain an electronic version of the TOEFL textbook.1 Longman Publication, publisher of the TOEFL textbook, also publishes other textbooks which are used in courses at the College’s Institute. More than a year prior to the complainant’s enrollment in her first TOEFL course in Fall 1996, the College first contacted Longman Publication requesting its cooperation in making accessible Longman textbooks being used by the complainant. By letter dated November 22, 1995, the College’s DSPS counselor wrote to the Executive Editor of Longman Publication stating that “an international student who is visually impaired has enrolled in our ESL program. The texts the class will be using are: Focus on Grammar – High Intermediate… [and] Workbook for High Intermediate… Books on tape does not work in this instance because an auditory presentation of the material does not allow the student to learn spelling. I request a Braille version of the texts or a copy of the texts on computer disk so that I may convert the text to Braille in our high tech department… [I also request] appropriate copyright permission.”

Longman Publication responded by telephone that its policy was not to provide either Braille translations or an electronic disk version for any of its textbooks. Moreover, Longman Publication indicated that in any event their own electronic disk version of their textbooks was “protected and would not be readable by any system DSPS might use to convert the text to Braille.” When the complainant enrolled in her first TOEFL course in Fall 1996, the College again contacted Longman in an attempt to obtain either a Braille or electronic computer disk version of the TOEFL textbook. Again, Longman was unwilling to provide either.

Publishers benefit when college faculty select the publishers’ product as a course-assigned textbook (which all students in the class are then required to purchase). On the other hand, colleges report to OCR that publishers have been almost entirely unwilling to voluntarily alleviate the cost or otherwise participate in the process of making their product accessible to students with print impairments. Recently the disability community has turned to lawmakers for relief.

One barrier to educational institutions attempting to provide a printed text in an alternative format has been copyright issues involved in reproducing the original text. On September 16, 1996, federal Public Law 104-197 became effective, stating that “… it is not an infringement of copyright for an authorized entity to reproduce or to distribute copies or phonorecords of a previously published, nondramatic literary work if such copies or phonorecords are reproduced or distributed in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities… `specialized formats’ means braille, audio, or digital text which is exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities” [17 United States Code (U.S.C.) Ch. 1, § 121].

Besides eliminating the copyright barriers, steps have been taken to hold publishers responsible for providing their product in an alternative format. For several years states such as Texas have required publishers of elementary and secondary textbooks to deposit the electronic version of their textbooks into a central registry, where the state then translates the text into Braille for elementary and secondary students who are blind. In July 1997, the first state law applicable to publishers of college textbooks was passed. Arizona now mandates the state board of education to require “the publisher of each literary and nonliterary textbook used in the community colleges of this state to furnish computer software in a standardized format when software becomes available for nonliterary textbooks, to the State Board of Directors for community colleges from which Braille versions of the textbook may be produced” [Section 15-1425, Arizona Revised Statutes]. At this time there is no California state law requiring publishers of textbooks used in public educational institutions to provide such textbooks in an electronic/digital format for the purpose of accommodating a student with a disability.

In addition to the role of the publisher, there may also be a role for the campus bookstore to play with regard to the task of providing course-assigned textbooks in alternative format. A survey2 of California Community Colleges in April 1997 found that the campus bookstore markup on new textbooks is in the range of 20-25%, and that in campus bookstores operated by the college/District (only about one in six campus bookstores is privately operated) the college/District uses revenue generated from textbook sales for a wide variety of purposes (Survey Question Six). OCR notes that at this time apparently no college uses income from textbook revenue to cover costs arising when a student with a print impairment requires translation of a textbook into an alternative format.

OCR is pleased that the College actively sought to persuade the publisher of the TOEFL textbook to provide the Braille or electronic version of its product. These efforts demonstrate that the College was willing to explore solutions beyond the resources of the College’s DSPS office. With regard to the task of providing textbooks in an alternative format, the issue is usually not whether the DSPS staff has been dedicated and hardworking. Rather, the question is whether the college, as an institution, has explored all resources available. Cost-effective solutions may be found when departments on campus work together cooperatively, and in some cases, when individual colleges collectively approach the task. OCR notes that a centralized Braille Transcription Center, located at California State University, Fullerton, currently serves all California State University (CSU) campuses.3


On December 29, 1997, the College provided OCR with a plan in which the College, conditioned on the complainant’s enrollment in the Spring 1998 semester, commits to (1) provide a Braille translation of the TOEFL textbook, and (2) translate the complainant’s textbooks for the Spring 1998 semester into an appropriate medium that will be “as effective as” that provided to sighted students. Finally, in order to further explore possible intercollegiate solutions, the College has promised to discuss this issue at the next DSPS Coordinators meeting in its region, and to bring its need for a timely cost-effective method of obtaining electronic/Braille translations of printed textbooks to the attention of the Chancellor’s Office of the California Community Colleges.

OCR appreciates the College’s prompt response to issues raised by OCR in this complaint and OCR acknowledges the strong commitment of College staff to providing students with disabilities full access to the educational program. The College is to notify OCR in writing by July 1, 1998, that it implemented the above plan during Spring 1998. For questions regarding this letter, please contact Ms. Sarah Hawthorne, staff attorney, at (415) 437-7719.


Adriana Cárdenas
Team Leader