Department: Campus Computing
Campus Information Access, Part I: Recent Study Highlights Access Barriers to Public Information for Print Disabled Students
Course catalogs, schedules of classes and campus events calendars are all essential tools that provide students with timely information that is vital to academic success. But due to their printed format, many students with print impairments, or print disabilities, are unable to take advantage of these key resources. A recent study provides important documentation of these issues in the post-secondary education setting, and identifies pressing legal questions facing campuses today. In his recent masters thesis, Jeffrey C. Senge, of California State University, Fullerton, researched how campuses were implementing print accessibility to campus public information for the print disabled, in compliance with Federal Law (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990).
Senge defines print disability here to include students who cannot read standard print due to visual ipairment, learning disability, or physical disability. He conducted a survey of a multi-campus state university system to determine the kinds of accommodations that were being provided to print disabled students to make university public information accessible.
The survey found that in many cases public campus information, including admissions and registration materials, and the university catalog, were not available in any alternative format. Other important materials mentioned included class schedules, university maps, financial aid information, and campus newspapers. The campuses that did provide access relied primarily on live readers.
Senge points out that Section 504 mandates program accessibility, not only environmental accessibility. Further, that Title II, Subpart E of the ADA mandates that "effective communications " be included as a component of program accessibility (28 CFR part 35). Senge states, "This means it is necessary for a public entity to assure communications with individuals with disabilities are as effective as communications with others. This implies if information is presented in a textual format for print readers, the same information should be made available in readable format for non-print readers (i.e., braille, large print, or E-text)."
Senge's research needs to be replicated for other state systems and private colleges and universities. While one must be cautious in generalizing from one university system to the national post-secondary situation, I believe the results represent not a unique situation, but are indicative of the typical barriers to information access found on today's college campuses.
All campuses would benefit from heeding Senge's findings as a wake-up call to become proactive in the area of information accessibility. Campuses that do not may be putting themselves at risk. An important first step for any committee or unit involved in planning campus public information resources would be to consult with your campus adaptive computing specialist on an ongoing basis. Taking a proactive approach is the most direct way to provide equal information access for all.
The greatest opportunities for access to a campus' public information lie in the growing development of Campus Wide Information Systems (CWIS) on college campuses. Adaptive computer technology offers the promise of access to the CWIS for the print impaired. But here too there are significant barriers. In future issues of _Information Technology and Disability_ we'll take a look at how some campuses are addressing this concern.
References:Senge, J.C., 1993, "Print Accessibility for Print Disabled
Students in the California State University System." Unpublished
Master's Thesis, California State University, Fullerton.
Senge, J.C., 1993, "Print Accessibility for Print Disabled
Students in Post secondary Education." A paper presented at the
1994 CSUN Conference on Technology and Persons with Disabilities."
To request a copy of the thesis or paper send email to the author, Jeffrey C. Senge, Computer Access Coordinator, Computer Access Lab CS-108, California State University, Fullerton, Fullerton, CA 92634, tel: 714-449-5397, email:firstname.lastname@example.orgDaniel Hilton-Chalfen, Ph.D.
Coordinator, UCLA Disabilities and Computing Program
Office of Academic Computing/Microcomputer Support Office
405 Hilgard Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90024-1557
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