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Distance Education Accessibility Guidelines

Which Laws Apply?

Section 508 law applies only to federal agencies and departments. The standards, however, are available for anyone to incorporate in whole or in part. Thus, for example, state law may require state entities to comply with the standards.

A non-federal entity such as a university or a city, county, or state government that receives federal monies needs to comply with Section 504 (of the Rehabilitation Act) requirements to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities; however, Section 504 does not require accommodations to be provided through conformance with Section 508 accessibility standards. Adherence to Section 508 requirements can be used as a way of meeting Section 504 obligations. For example, following the Section 508 standards for captioning may be a good way to meet Section 504 obligations.

In addition, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires the programs, services, and activities of state and local governments (e.g. public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings) to be accessible to people with disabilities. Again, access to the programs may be provided through individual accommodations vs. adherence to the Section 508 standards.

Law Application Mandates
Section 504 Entities receiving federal funds Opportunity for disabled students to participate must be as effective as that provided to others
Title II Public entities Equal information access, including print and computer-based information
Section 508 Federal entities Provide disabled access to electronic and information technology
Title 5 Entities receiving CA state funds Distance education courses must be accessible
AB 422 Postsecondary-textbook publishers Must provide disabled students with e-text of required textbooks
SB 105 Entities receiving CA state funds Must comply with the accessibility requirements of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (1998), and federal regulations implementing that Act.


New and Updated Laws and Regulations Relating to Distance Education

Proposed Changes to ADA – Website Accessibility

On July 26, 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division released an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, formally stating the Department's consideration to revise the Code of Federal Regulations, implementing Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. These changes, if enacted, would establish specific requirements for state and local governments and public entities to make their websites accessible to individuals with disabilities. The next step in the process is for the Department to solicit and collect public comments, with a deadline of January 24, 2011.

The Chancellor's Office will continue to track these developments closely and if the ADA is in fact amended to provide standards for website accessibility, these guidelines will be updated accordingly, as they affect public institutions such as community colleges, and the accessibility of the websites used in the delivery of distance education.

Section 508 Update - 2010

In March 2010, the U.S. Access Board released a draft document updating its standards for electronic and information technology in the Federal sector covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. As part of this effort, it is also updating guidelines for telecommunications products subject to Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act. This document features a new structure and format that integrates the 508 standards and 255 guidelines into a single document referred to as the "Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Standards and Guidelines." Requirements have been reorganized according to functionality instead of product type since many devices now feature an array of capabilities and applications. The draft includes proposed revisions to various performance criteria and technical specifications that are designed to improve accessibility, add clarity to facilitate compliance, address market trends, and promote harmonization with other global guidelines and standards.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act

There are new exemptions to the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that will now allow professors and students to decrypt and excerpt copyrighted video content for lectures and class projects. The rule changes were recently issued by the U.S. Copyright Office, which issues new rules every three years or so since Congress incorporated anti-circumvention rules into the DMCA when it was passed in 2000.

The new exemptions will allow professors in all fields and "film and media studies students" to hack encrypted DVD content and clip 'short portions' into documentary films and "non-commercial videos." The agency has not defined short portions. This means that any professor, in any field, can legally extract movie clips and incorporate them into lectures, as long as they are willing to decrypt them. Programs known as 'DVD rippers' are available to handle decryption. Additionally, professors are now permitted to use ripped content in non-classroom settings that are similarly protected under "fair use," such as presentations at academic conferences.

These new exemptions provide an opportunity for professors to compile clips from disparate sources onto one contiguous media file. Ripping portions of disparate sources into one compilation often results in an uncaptioned compilation that will need to be made accessible. There is still an instructional need to continue providing accessible media for persons with disabilities requiring access in online courses.