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Distance Education Accessibility Guidelines


In March 1996, the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) conducted a statewide compliance review under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The review was to examine whether students with visual impairments, particularly blind students, were accorded an equal educational opportunity by California Community Colleges or whether they were being discriminated against on the basis of their disability.

As an outcome of this review, OCR offered nine suggestions for addressing areas of concern identified by the review. Among the suggestions/concerns voiced by OCR was the need for development of system-wide access guidelines for distance learning and campus Web pages.

In responding to OCR's suggestions regarding development of system-wide access guidelines for distance learning and campus Web pages, in a letter dated March 13, 1998, then Chancellor Thomas Nussbaum replied:

"We concur with the strategies related to this issue. I will immediately direct that the Chancellor’s Office Task Forces related to distance learning as well as California Virtual University have persons on them to specifically address access issues for persons with disabilities... To assure that the necessary guidance to colleges is available, I will specifically ask Vice Chancellor of Educational Services and Economic Development, Rita Cepeda, whose staff oversees the distance learning issues, to develop in cooperation with the DSP&S Unit and the High Tech Center Training Unit (HTCTU), guidelines for distance learning to assure it is accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities."

The 1999 Distance Education: Access Guidelines for Students with Disabilities were the result of Chancellor Nussbaum's directive.

In January 2007, HTCTU's Advisory Committee submitted a request to the Chancellor's Office, asking the Disabled Students Program and Services (DSPS) Program to conduct a system-wide appraisal of the resources needed to ensure that online distance students. That communication eventually led to a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP) process for a statewide needs assessment study. One of the outcomes from the resulting study, completed by MPR Associates, Inc., was a recommendation to update the 1999 Distance Education: Access Guidelines for Students with Disabilities, so that they will be more aligned to current technological access issues that colleges face in the delivery of distance education courses and, thus, more useful to the 112 California Community Colleges.

On July 9, 2007, regulations regarding the standards and criteria for distance education courses were approved by the Board of Governors. Regulations regarding distance education attendance accounting standards were approved by the Board on June 16, 2008. Earlier changes to regulations regarding the rules for immediate supervision and control within distance education were approved on January 15, 2002. All three sets of regulations and guidelines were combined in the 2008 Omnibus Version of the Distance Education Guidelines to provide an all inclusive reference on distance education related regulations. Through collaborative work between the Chancellor's Office DSPS Program and the Educational Technology Advisory Committee, language was included in the release of the new Distance Education Guidelines, which states, in part:

"...The following are a few general principles that should be followed in ensuring that distance education courses are accessible to students with disabilities. They embody the general concepts of the law but do not provide a detailed legal analysis of the ADA requirements. Persons utilizing this document who are unfamiliar with the ADA and section 508 may wish to consult district legal counsel or the college ADA Coordinator or DSPS Coordinator for further information. A separate and more detailed set of revised guidelines on accessibility and distance education will be issued by the Chancellor's Office at a later date... (bolded for emphasis)."

The eleven general principles that follow that paragraph can be found in the "Basic Requirements" section of this document and were closely considered when developing these new "Distance Education: Accessibility Guidelines".

These actions and events, combined with less formal, but equally important, feedback from the field opining that the "Distance Education: Access Guidelines for Students with Disabilities" needed to be updated to a more useful and relevant document, all resulted in the Chancellor's Office committing to update the 1999 version of the guidelines. A new task force, consisting of campus experts in distance education, web accessibility, curriculum, instructional technology, new and emerging assistive technologies, DSPS program management, as well as Chancellor's Office representation, was convened to accomplish this goal. The following guidelines are the result of the work of the Distance Education Accessibility Task Force.

Highlights of the changes to the original guidelines include the addition of a "Conceptual Framework" section that includes a discussion of the relevance of Universal Design, a "Frequently Asked Questions" section, a new vision of the guidelines with a focus on newly defined categories of delivery and references to new and emerging technologies that were not in existence in 1999, and the release of the document in an accessible, easily searchable, user-friendly, electronic online format.