[Colorado-talk] Feds drop investigation into CU-Boulder's accessibility to visually impaired students

James Beal bealcorgi at aol.com
Fri May 29 15:47:52 UTC 2015

Thank you for sharing this. I have been considering going back to 
school to update my own educational credentials. I am definitely ruling 
out CU and any of its affiliates. If they want my money bad enough, 
they will work with me to enable me to access educational materials. if 
they don't I am sure I can find others with the same offerings who will.

James Beal
bealcorgi at aol.com

-----Original Message-----
From: Nehemiah Hall via Colorado-talk <colorado-talk at nfbnet.org>
To: NFB of Colorado Discussion List <colorado-talk at nfbnet.org>
Cc: Nehemiah Hall <nrh at n-republic.net>
Sent: Fri, May 29, 2015 4:31 am
Subject: [Colorado-talk] Feds drop investigation into CU-Boulder's 
accessibility to visually impaired students

Feds drop investigation into CU-Boulder's accessibility to visually 
impaired students

The U.S. Department of Justice has dropped its investigation into 
whether the University of Colorado's technologies are accessible to 
blind students.

Boulder campus leaders are lauding the decision, but some of the blind 
students who filed the complaint say not much has changed in the last 

"After carefully reviewing the information that you provided as well as 
the information provided by the University of Colorado at Boulder, we 
have decided not to take any further action on your complaint," wrote 
Paula Rubin, a trial attorney for the Disability Rights Section of the 
Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, in an email to one 

"Unfortunately, because the section receives thousands of (Americans 
with Disabilities Act) complaints each year, we do not have the 
resources to resolve all of them."

Rubin also wrote that the Justice Department "has made no determination 
regarding the merits" of the complaint. She said the CU students could 
pursue their complaint in another manner.


Another trial attorney on the case, William Lynch, directed all 
questions to the Justice Department's press office. Officials in that 
office did not immediately respond to requests for comment this morning.

Bill Casson, a graduate student who helped file the complaint against 
CU last year, said he was disappointed.

"The university, ever since the DOJ complaint, has been taking steps to 
become compliant, but they still have technology that's not 
accessible," he said. "We don't understand why the DOJ has decided that 
the gross violations of the (Americans with Disabilities Act) and 
student rights — why our issues have not been considered significant 
enough to warrant a continuation of the investigation."

Casson said he's not giving up the case because the Justice Department 
halted its investigation. He said he will continue working on behalf of 
the 41 students with visual impairments — including three blind 
students — on the Boulder campus.

At issue were widely used CU-Boulder digital technologies.

Last spring, students with visual impairments complained that they 
couldn't access digital textbooks, campus email, websites for homework 
and course content, digital signs on campus and a portal to register 
for classes, pay bills and set up meetings with advisers.

The students said they had to work with someone to complete routine 
tasks and often spent hours trying to access university services that 
sighted students have no problems using.

Similar concerns have been raised at other colleges and universities in 
recent years. The Justice Department has reached settlement agreements 
with several institutions, including Louisiana Tech University and edX, 
the nonprofit online education platform created by MIT and Harvard.

Esha Mehta, a University of Colorado student who is blind, relaxes with 
her dog, Dragon, last year. (Cliff Grassmick /Staff Photographer)

CU takes steps

Since the complaint was filed last spring, the university has taken 
steps to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, including 
appointing a chief digital accessibility officer, gathering feedback 
 from the campus, launching an accessible technology website for online 
resources and documentation, and drafting an accessibility policy.

CU also set up a review process for how technologies will be made more 
accessible over time, if not immediately, and received funding for 
additional staff dedicated to digital accessibility.

Additionally, the university has posted online "accessibility 
considerations" for the most widely used technologies, including 
Microsoft Office and Google Apps.

A contract announced last fall with online education company Lynda.com 
includes access to video tutorials for faculty, staff and students on 
creating accessible documents.

Last fall, the university sought advice from peer universities with 
expertise in accessible technologies in a symposium it hosted involving 
University of Washington, Temple University, University of California 
and others.

Dan Jones, CU's new accessibility officer, said he understands the 
students' frustrations and added that the university's working groups 
are committed to ensuring accessibility for all students.

"Everyone knows we have a lot more work to do and we have hundreds of 
websites and different services," he said. "It will take time to work 
through all of those. We're addressing the most critical items and 
then, as new services are coming online that are campus-wide and used 
by all students, we're also working to address those. But it will take 
some time.

"There certainly is the commitment from the (campus) leadership."

Jones said part of the problem involves procuring software and 
technologies when some vendors are just now catching up on 
accessibility issues. He said the university is working with other 
schools to urge companies to design services everyone can access.

"That is definitely an issue in that we're finding that vendors are 
just becoming aware of this," he said. "There are more lawsuits and the 
Department of Justice is reaching out in their role to enforce the 
regulatory requirements, so vendors are conscious of this. But it's 
bubbling up."

Beyond ensuring that services are accessible on their own, Jones said 
the university needs to work with faculty to ensure that they're using 
the technologies appropriately. For example, he said, all faculty 
members need to be aware of how to upload accessible videos or files 
when they use course content services.

Not done fighting

Esha Mehta, an undergraduate who also helped file the complaint last 
year, said she and other students with visual impairments have been 
working with the university to test current and potential new 

She said there have been several instances in which the university 
launched a new service before testing had been completed or in spite of 
the fact that the services weren't easy for blind students to use in 

"Something needs to be done, especially because CU is such a great 
university," Mehta said. "And I want the education that I'm paying for. 
And I want the opportunities that I'm paying to receive, and that's not 
happening fully.

"It's a matter of having equal access to education and different 

In an interview with the Daily Camera last year, Mehta said she had to 
meet with an algebra professor and teaching assistant at least five 
hours each week outside of class time because she couldn't access the 
digital textbook or online tool to submit homework and quizzes.

After hearing that the Justice Department dropped its investigation, 
Mehta said she won't stop fighting for equal access.

"I have a year left of undergrad but I know that I'm not going to be 
the only blind person to walk through the university's doors," she 
said. "It might be too late for things to really change noticeably and 
significantly while I'm still a student at CU, but it doesn't mean that 
I'm not thinking about the next generation of blind students coming 

Sarah Kuta: 303-473-1106, kutas at dailycamera.com or twitter.com/sarahkuta



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