May 10, 2013
The University of California Berkeley signed a settlement earlier this week to make print and research material more accessible to students with disabilities. Though the agreement is specific to the UC Berkeley campus, advocates hope it will encourage colleges and universities across the nation to follow suit.
Inside Higher Ed reported that after a year of negotiations, Berkeley reached an out-of-court agreement with Disability Rights Advocates, which represented three Cal students with visual and learning disabilities. The 18-page settlement requires that Berkeley make its library and course print materials more accessible to students with disabilities such as blindness, paralysis, or dyslexia by providing alternative formats for course materials in a timely fashion.
Rebecca Williford, a lawyer for Disability Rights Advocates, said that some students had to wait months for the university to provide material in a format that was accessible. One of the three students, Tabitha Mancini, told the Los Angeles Times that it took two to three weeks to get course materials converted into the format she needed. Additionally, for library books, she needed to use computer software that reads and tracks documents and often scanned the books herself.
“To compete equally it’s really important to have access and my ability to compete was severely lowered,” said Mancini in the Los Angeles Times.
Under the agreement, Berkeley will provide digital alternatives of textbooks and course readers within 10 and 17 days, respectively. Additionally, the school will encourage instructors to announce course materials earlier so that students with disabilities have adequate time to convert materials to the proper format. KTVU.com reported that the university will also implement a UC library print conversion system, supposedly the first in the nation, so that students with disabilities can request a library book or journal be made accessible, with a turnaround time of about five business days. As Inside Higher Ed noted, this is particularly important at Berkeley, which has an extensive collection of library materials and where many courses require research projects.
“For those sorts of topics, that means ideally your possibilities are endless to what you might be interested in, but for students with print disabilities all that print material on the shelf was basically not accessible to them,” said Elizabeth Dupuis, an associate university librarian, to Inside Higher Ed.
In recent years, there has been a national increase in the number of disabled students attending college, so this settlement comes at a much needed time. Furthermore, the Los Angeles Times pointed out that there are few legal requirements for accessibility. Even the Americans with Disabilities Act does not provide guidelines and states that schools do not have to make any accommodations if they are too costly. Many advocates hope that the Berkeley settlement will provide a solid foundation for change.
“We hope that this is setting a precedent for a model that other universities can follow nationwide,” said Williford in the Los Angeles Times.
All policies and procedures will be fully implemented by next fall.
Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin
“Pact gives disabled UC Berkeley students more access to books,” latimes.com, May 7, 2013, Carla Rivera
“UC, rights group agree to aid students with issues reading print,” ktvu.com, May 7, 2013
“Win for Disabled Students,” insidehighered.com, May 9, 2013, Ry Rivard