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Letter to Chancellor Nussbaum

Thomas J. Nussbaum, Chancellor
California Community Colleges
1107 Ninth Street
Sacramento, California 95814

22 January 1998

(In reply, please reference Case Docket No. 09-97-6001)

Dear Chancellor Nussbaum:

On March 26, 1996, the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) met with you and your staff to notify you that OCR was beginning its college onsite visits in the statewide compliance review under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504). This compliance review focuses 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 examines whether students with visual impairments, particularly blind students, are accorded an equal educational opportunity by California Community Colleges, or whether they are being discriminated against on the basis of their disability. Specifically, OCR is considering whether the Chancellor’s Office employs “methods of administration” that have the effect of substantially impairing accomplishment of the objectives of the California Community College Community Colleges educational program with respect to students with visual impairments [34 C.F.R. ¤ 104.4(b) (4) ].

This letter contains four parts: (1) highlights from OCR Summary Report, (2) nine suggestions on how areas of OCR concern may be addressed by the Chancellor’s Office, (3) a request that meetings be set up in the next month between OCR and appropriate members of the Chancellors’s Office, and (4) a description of other items enclosed in the packet attached to this letter.

The OCR Summary Report (enclosed) is base on OCR survey results, onsite visits, complaint resolution experience, and reports from various components of the California Community College system. Some highlights from the OCR Summary Report are:

  • Access to technology is recognized by California Community Colleges as a high priority for all students. Yet students with visual impairments currently face overwhelming barriers to such access.
  • It is extremely expensive for community colleges to meet their legal obligation to provide communication as effective as that provided to nondisabled students when each college attempts to individually serve a handful of students whose disability requires print and computer-based information to be translated into alternative medium. Consequently, students with visual impairments, particularly blind students, who are scattered throughout the community college system, are drastically underserved by Disabled Student Programs and Services (DSPS) Offices whose budgets are stretched thin.
    • Braille proficient students are under-identified by colleges, the majority of whom are not prepared to provide timely Braille translations for examinations and classroom handouts, much less textbooks.
    • Adaptive technology is available to eliminate most barriers facing students with visual impairments. However, use of adaptive technology requires an upfront capital outlay and specialized staff training. In contrast, the cost of personal readers is usually borne by the California Department of rehabilitation when the student with a visual impairment is a client, and in other cases personal readers may be obtain from a pool of volunteers. Yet in many situations adaptive technology not only removes barriers to information/technology access that personal readers do not, but adaptive technology offers long term savings over labor-intensive methods of accommodation. For example, once translated into the proper electronic digital text, information can be cost-effectively output multiple times into a variety of alternative formats (e.g., synthesized speech, Braille, screen magnification) that will benefit not only underserved students with visual impairments but students with other types of disabilities (e.g, learning disabilities, acquired brain injury).
    • Acquisition of technology and expansion into distance education, including the Internet, is occurring at an explosive rate among California Community Colleges. Failure at this time to take into account the needs of students with visual impairments will foreseeably result in substantial investment in inaccessible products and program structures, thus unnecessarily raising the subsequent cost of accommodating students with visual impairments, and in some cases precluding such accommodation altogether.
    • Present “method of administration” by the Chancellor’s Office are failing to effectively respond to the above.

    Listed below are nine strategies by which the Chancellor’s Office may wish to address areas of OCR concern:

    I. Cost-Effective Approach to Purchasing Adaptive Technology
    With respect to obtaining group discounts for mainstream computer products, OCR notes that the Chancellor’s Office is in the process of negotiating with manufacturers (e.g., Sun Microsystems) and has also established an advisory committee to create a systemwide master offering list to facilitate cooperative purchase of computer products at substantial discounts to participating colleges. The Chancellor’s Office and/or its components (i.e., the DeAnza High Tech Center Training Unit) has the expertise to identify which adaptive technology hardware/software products, if acquired pursuant to a group purchasing arrangement, would most benefit community colleges in need of such products to ensure that students with visual impairments have access to libraries, departmental computer laboratories, and DSPS/high tech centers. The Chancellor’s Office would then be in a position to negotiate opportunities for optional group purchasing arrangements.

    Consider for inclusion in the list of hardware/software products: large screen monitor, optical character recognition scanner, screen reader software, speech synthesizer, screen enlargement software, CCTV, Braille conversion/editing software, Braille printer. Colleges purchasing products pursuant to this agreement will need appropriate staff training.

    II. Adaptive Technology Training
    The DeAnza High Tech Center Training Unit currently provides excellent statewide training and technical assistance to California Community Colleges. However, the needs of the colleges for adaptive technology training have grown beyond the purposes for which the Center was originally established. When the Center was originally established ten years ago many colleges were in the initial stages of acquiring adaptive technology. Now most colleges have at least part-time high tech specialist who have indicated that they need more advanced training in order to do their job (e.g., explicit training on interfacing screen reading software with commonly used complex computer programs, e.g., LOTUS, MCAD).

    In addition to advanced training for DSPS/high tech specialist, as students with disabilities have exercised heir right to access the mainstream educational program, libraries and department computer labs are becoming aware of the need to acquire onsite adaptive technology rather than merely refer students to the DSPS/high tech center, which does not have the capacity and is not funded to make all technology/information on campus accessible. Thus, college staff outside DSPS/high tech center are requesting adaptive technology training, preferably focussed on their unique needs.

    III. Access Guidelines for Distance Learning and Campus WebPages
    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. Moreover, colleges are placing more and more information on the Internet and campus LAN, yet the WebPages through which this information is to be accessed have not been designed to facilitate access by persons with visual impairments.

    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 OCR understanding that four regional distance learning centers to assist in development of program and course materials will be set up in 1998-1999. The concept of accessibility should be firmly integrated into such development. If guidelines to ensure access are made available to colleges now, such information on how to structure distance learning programs and campus WebPages will not only ensure that colleges meet their legal obligations but will also enable colleges to save significant expense over the later cost of “retrofitting” these programs after substantial investment has been made in inaccessible structures. The Chancellor’s Office may wish to draw on distance education and webpages access guidelines developed by others.

    IV. Distribution of Standard Technology Grants/Funds
    Each year the Chancellor’s Office offers colleges opportunities to apply for technology grants or otherwise establish eligibility for technology funds. The process for applying/establishing eligibility should require a college to describe the method by which it will meet its obligation under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to ensure this particular technology is made accessible to persons with disabilities, including persons whose disability requires a nonvisual format. Technology access, like architectural access, must be addressed institutionally as an integral part of the planning process.

    V. Printed Materials Translated into Electronic Text/Braille
    Recent federal legislation has removed one of the major obstacles to providing print in an alternative format by eliminating the copyright barriers to reproduction when the purpose is to provide access for person with disabilities. One of the remaining obstacles is the time-consuming labor-intensive process of converting hardcopy print into electronic text so that it can be output in the appropriate alternative format (e.g, Braille, synthesized speech).
    One method of dramatically reducing the conversation time/labor is through use of an industrial optical character recognition scanner now on the mainstream business market. Unlike the scanners (estimated cost $5,000) used by DSPS offices which usually require that staff handfeed each side of every printed sheet, such industrial scanners (estimated cost less than $90,000) are able to read/collate/translate into electronic text an entire doublesided textbook (after binding removal). Thus one or two high efficiency Alternative Format Centers could be established in California, and electronic text returned by modem to the requesting college. Finally, it should be noted that certain types of print information do not lend themselves to scanning (special punctuation, graphs, charts, mathematical symbols, subscripts). It is much easier for an Alternative Format Center, specializing in translating print to develop solutions to these conversion difficulties.

    The Braille Transcription Center (CSU Fullerton) serving California State University campuses has found as a practical matter that, not only conversion from print to electronic text, but also translation from electronic text to Braille, is most effectively and reliably done at a centralized location. Nevertheless, another option is for each college to use its own Braille printer to output the electronic text. Not only textbooks, but even small Brailling tasks such as examinations and class handouts are sometimes most efficiently handled at an offsite centralized location rather than at a DSPS/high tech center that serves one or two blind students.

    VI. Central Registry of Textbooks in Alternative Format
    At the present time there is not method for DSPS offices to easily exchange information about what textbooks they currently possess in alternative formats. Audiocassettes obtained from the national Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFBD) are centrally catalogued by RFBD. However, textbook translations created by individual colleges (ranging from audiotapes made by personal readers, to hardcopy Braille translations, to enlarged print, to electronic text input by DSPS staff) may be stockpiled on the shelf after one time use. On the other hand, some colleges are under the missimpression that they are not entitled to reclaim the alternative format textbooks from the students after the semester is completed. Thus, again there is no opportunity for other students with visual impairments to benefit from a prior translation.

    If a central registry, perhaps on the Internet, were established so that DSPS Offices could simply post the title/publisher/alternative format of unused textbooks within their possession, not only would this reduce duplication of translation efforts, but when DSPS is assisting students with print impairments in making last minute course selections, it would be useful to know that certain textbooks are immediately available in an alternative format.

    VII. Library Access
    As a result of the Telecommunication and Technology Infrastructure Program (TTIP) and other recent initiatives, California Community College libraries are investing significant funds in technology hardware/software acquisition. OCR notes that the Chancellor’s Office has been charged with developing standards and funding recommendations in the area of library technology initiatives and electronic resources and technology human resources training fund.

    Traditionally, community college libraries have relied upon referring students to DSPS as the exclusive method by which patrons with disabilities are served. On many campuses such referrals constitute the library’s sole contact with the DSPS/high tech center. However, there are many ways in which DSPS Offices are not equipped to handle the broader access issues on the library, e.g., DSPS funding is restricted to expenditures directly related to the instructional/curriculum needs of enrolled students (a narrower purpose than would cover the general services provided by the community college library). A concerted effort needs to be made both to alert community college libraries to their print/computer access responsibilities, and to acquaint them with resources available to assist in better serving patrons with disabilities.

    VIII. Followup to OCR Survey
    The survey of all colleges initiated by OCR on September 18, 1996 was a useful tool for obtaining some information about the extent to which print and computer based information is being made available to students with visual impairments. However, within the last tow years community colleges have made unprecedented movement toward “technologizing” their campuses. It would therefore be appropriate for the Chancellor’s Office to conduct its own followup survey to determine the extent to which progress has been made since the initial OCR survey. The DeAnza High Tech Center Training Unit has expressed an interest, if requested by the Chancellor’s Office, in conducting more indepth research into many of the areas covered by the OCR survey with respect to a smaller number of the campuses (e.g., a randomly selected twenty percent).

    IX. Annual DSPS Program Reviews
    Each year the Chancellor’s Office (Vocational and Educational Services) conducts program reviews of DSPS offices at about ten California Community Colleges. The Guidelines for Evaluation for these program reviews does not direct the reviewer to give substantive attention to the issue of adaptive technology (as contrasted with the page and a half devoted to architectural barrier removal). In particular, the question of access by students with visual impairments to print/computer based information is not raised. This program review mechanism would be an ideal method for alerting colleges on an ongoing basis that the Chancellor’s Office values a college’s commitment to ensuring that students with disabilities have equal access to print and computer-based information. Also, when listing the federal statutes that govern the program reviews, the Guidelines for Evaluation lists the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), but no mention is made of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which contains numerous references to the important role of technology in ensuring persons with disabilities equal access. The Guidelines for Evaluation used when conducting program reviews of DSPS offices should be revised to reflect more recent legal and technological developments.

    Anticipated Process for Resolving Compliance Review Issues

    At this time OCR is requesting that the Chancellor’s Office provide OCR an opportunity to meet with staff and/or other appropriate individuals who have a working knowledge in fields affected by the above proposed nine strategies. Because many strategies are within the purview of different staff and because it is desirable to offer adequate time to thoroughly discuss the practical aspects of each strategy. Please feel free to set meetings for different times/dates to accommodate multiple scheduling needs. OCR is interested in hearing from the Chancellor’s Office as to whether the proposed strategies are consistent with California Community Colleges goals and objectives, and if so, what next steps might be appropriate. It is not expected that any formal commitments will be made during these initial meeting(s). If possible, please schedule the meeting(s) prior to March 1, 1998.

    The standard OCR process for resolving compliance review issues is for OCR and the public institution/recipient to reach a mutual understanding on what steps will be taken to address existing problems, and for OCR too monitor implementation of those steps through the institution/recipient submission of a specified number of annual progress reports to OCR.

    Attached to this OCR letter are several documents. The first are two OCR letters, issued since we last met with you, resolving specific individual complaints filed with OCR. These two letters describe the applicable legal standards regarding a public college’s duty to provide students with visual impairments access to research resources (e.g., library books, Internet) and to provide textbooks in an appropriate alternative format. As a practical matter, neither of these duties can be accomplished in a timely efficient manner without use of specialized technology.

    For further reference, attached is a copy of U.S. Department of Education (Department) “Requirements for Accessible Software Design” issued March 6, 1997, describing standards utilized by the Department when selecting computer hardware and software applications for use within the Department’s computing environment to ensure the accessibility of its programs and activities to individuals with disabilities.

    Also attached is a copy of the “Information Access for Students with Visual Impairments: Analysis and Final Report of the California Community College’ Survey and Self-Evaluation” completed by researchers Jamie Dote-Kwan (California State University at Los Angeles) and Jeffrey Senge (California State University at Fullerton). This report analyzes data collected from surveys returned to OCR from all 106 community colleges in response to the OCR questionnaire sent by the Chancellor’s Office on September 18, 1996.

    Finally, attached is an OCR Summary Report drawn from OCR onsite visits during Spring 1997 to 16 community college campuses, from the OCR survey results, from OCR experience in processing complaints and responding to requests for technical assistance, and from information available from California Community College entities.

    For further information you may contact Paul Grossman, Chief Regional Attorney, qt (415) 437-7816, or Sarah Hawthorne, Staff Attorney, at (415) 437-7719. To schedule the requested meetings, please contact Sarah Hawthorne.


    Stefan Rosenzweig
    Regional Director

    cc: Ralph Black
    Thelma Scott-Skillman
    Rita Cepeda
    Larry Toy
    Kaylene Hallberg
    Katherine Campisi
    Carolyn Norton