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Distance Education Accessibility Guidelines

Basic Distance Education Requirements

  • One of the primary concepts of distance education (DE) is to offer students learning anytime, anywhere. Therefore, all DE resources must be designed to afford students with disabilities maximum opportunity to access distance education resources anytime, anywhere without the need for outside assistance (e.g. sign language interpreters, aides, etc.).


  • Distance education resources must generally be designed to provide "built-in" accommodation (i.e., closed or open captioning, descriptive narration) and/or interface design/content layout, which is accessible to "industry standard" assistive computer technology in common use by persons with disabilities.


  • Whenever possible, printed information should be provided in the alternative format preferred by the student (i.e., Braille, audio tape, large print, electronic text, MP3, DAISY). When choosing between possible alternative formats or methods of delivery, consideration should be given to the fact that methods which are adequate for short, simple or less important communications may not be equally effective or appropriate for longer, more complex, or more critical material. (Example: Use of a telephone relay service may be an acceptable method for a faculty member to respond to a brief question from a deaf student during his/her office hours, but would not be appropriate as a means of permitting that same student to participate in a class discussion in a course conducted by teleconference.) Issues concerning accommodation should be resolved through appropriate campus procedures as defined under Title 5, section 56027.


  • Adoption of access solutions which include assigning assistants (i.e., sign language interpreters, readers) to work with an individual student to provide access to distance education resources should only be considered as a last resort when all efforts to enhance the native accessibility of the course material have failed. This is particularly true since, for several years, colleges have received funding to assist them in providing access to distance education. In the event that a student files a discrimination complaint, a district relying on the use of readers or interpreters to make a distance education course accessible will bear the burden of demonstrating that it was not possible to build in accessibility.


  • Access to DE courses, resources and materials include the audio, video and text components of courses or communication delivered via existing and emerging technologies. Access includes the audio, video, multimedia and text components of Web sites, electronic chat rooms, e-mail, instructional software, CD-ROM, DVD, laser disc, video tape, audio tape, electronic text and print materials. Where access to Web sites not controlled by the college is required or realistically necessary to completion of a course, the college must take steps to ensure that such sites are accessible or provide the same material by other accessible means.


  • Distance education courses, resources and materials must be designed and delivered in such a way that the level of communication and course-taking experience is the same for students with or without disabilities.


  • Any DE courses, resources or materials purchased or leased from a third-party provider, or created or substantially modified "in-house" after August 1999, must be accessible to students with disabilities, unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the instructional activity or result in undue financial and administrative burdens on the district.


  • In August 1999, the Chancellor's Office began requiring that the curriculum for each DE course and its associated materials and resources be reviewed and revised, as necessary, when the course undergoes curriculum review pursuant to Title 5, sections 55002 and 55206, every six years as part of the accreditation process. Thus, this process should now have been completed for all distance education courses.

    If a college has not yet reviewed its distance education courses to ensure accessibility, it should do so immediately. However, in the event that a student with a disability enrolls in an existing DE course before this review is completed, the college will be responsible for acting in a timely manner and making any requested modifications to the curriculum, materials or resources used in the course, unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the instructional activity or result in undue financial burden on the district.


  • In the event that a discrimination complaint is filed alleging that a college has selected software and/or hardware that is not accessible for persons with disabilities, the Chancellor's Office and the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights will not generally accept a claim of undue burden based on the subsequent substantial expense of providing access, when such costs could have been significantly reduced by considering the issue of accessibility at the time of initial selection.


  • In all cases, even where the college can demonstrate that a requested accommodation would involve a fundamental alteration in the nature of the instructional activity or would impose an undue financial and administrative burden, the college must provide an alternative accommodation which is equally effective for the student if such an accommodation is available.


  • The college is responsible for assuring that distance education courses, materials and resources are accessible to students with disabilities. All college administrators, faculty and staff who are involved in the use of this instructional mode share this obligation. The Chancellor's Office will make every effort to provide technical support and training for faculty and staff involved in the creation of accessible distance education courses, resources and materials.