Disability, Accessibility, & Universities: Court Adjudications & Formal Settlements



Kenneth S. Pope, Ph.D., ABPP

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Here are some of the adjudications, settlements, agreements, and similar documents in the area of access to colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher education.

U.S. Department of Justice news release on April 25, 2011: "Settlement Agreement: National Federation of the Blind, Et. Al. vs.. Law School Admission Council."  The news release states: "LSAC shall provide 'Full and Equal Access' to the lsac.org website as provided herein no later than September 1, 2011 ("Completion Date") and continuing thereafter for the term of this Agreement. 'Full and Equal Access' means that www.lsac.org meets the nonvisual requirements of WCAG 2.0, level AA and that blind guests using screen-reader software may acquire the same information and engage in the same transactions as are available to sighted guests with substantially equivalent ease of use. These accessibility requirements extend to all parts of the lsac.org website on which services or products are made available to prospective law school applicants or to LSAT and Credential Assembly Service registrants, including, but not limited to, the process of applying to law schools through lsac.org, including both the common information input fields and the input fields specific to each participating law school; and the documents and practice tests LSAC makes available online. To achieve Full and Equal Access to the law school applications, LSAC shall provide tools that enable participating law schools who wish to add input fields specific to their law schools' respective applications to do so in a manner that provides Full and Equal Access to blind persons using screen-access software. Law schools that do not use the tools referred to in this paragraph will not be able to have their applications hosted on the LSAC site."

U.S. Department of Justice news release on January 14, 2011: "Large Network of Private Schools Pays $215,000 to Settle Lawsuit Alleging Discrimination Against Children with Disabilities." The news release states: " The Justice Department today announced the settlement of a lawsuit filed to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) against Nobel Learning Communities, Inc. (NLC), a private, for-profit entity that operates a nationwide network of more than 180 preschools, elementary schools and secondary schools.... In its lawsuit, filed in April 2009 in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the Justice Department alleged that NLC violated Title III of the ADA by excluding from its programs children with disabilities, including some children with autism spectrum disorder, Down Syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and global developmental delays." Here's another excerpt:

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Key provisions of the Settlement Agreement include the following:

Disability Non-Discrimination Policy: NLC has adopted and will implement a formal policy to ensure that it will operate its programs, facilities, and services in a non-discriminatory manner to comply with Title III of the ADA.

Publicity: NLC will publicize the Disability Non-Discrimination Policy to its principals, teachers, and other staff at all facilities in the NLC network. The policy will be posted on NLC's website and member schools' websites. Paper copies of the policy will be available to any person upon request.

Monetary Relief: Upon receipt of appropriate releases, NLC has agreed to pay $215,000.00 collectively to the children referred to in the United States' First Amended Complaint.

Commitment to Avoid Unnecessary Inquiries: In accordance with the requirements of the ADA, NLC will not make unnecessary inquiries into the existence of a disability or impose or apply eligibility criteria that screen out or tend to screen out students with disabilities from the full and equal enjoyment of NLC's goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations.

Reasonable Modification Requests: NLC will, among other things, engage in a process to consider requests from a student's parent(s)/guardian(s) for reasonable modifications of NLC's programs and services when such modifications are necessary to afford NLC's programs and services to students with disabilities, unless NLC can demonstrate that making such modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations at issue.

Appointment of an ADA Compliance Officer: NLC will designate a person who is knowledgeable about the ADA and its implementing regulations, and who will communicate with parents/guardians on decisions regarding requests for reasonable modifications. In addition, (s)he will review (for compliance with the Disability Non-Discrimination Policy) all decisions not to enroll a student with a disability, or to disenroll a student with a disability.

Training: At specified periods during the term of the settlement agreement, NLC will train its regional executives, principals and assistant principals on the content of the Disability Non-Discrimination Policy and the terms and conditions of the settlement agreement. NLC will also require all of its teachers and assistant teachers to read the policy and report requests for reasonable modifications to appropriate NLC personnel.

Reporting and Tracking: NLC will track and report to the United States, at one year and at 18 months from the effective date of the settlement agreement, information including the number of applicants with disabilities and their ultimate enrollment status, as well as the number of requests received on behalf of applicants and current students for reasonable modifications (and whether the modifications were provided).

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Agreement To Resolve Office of Civil Rights Complaint Numbers 11-98-2046, 11-99-2055 & 11-99-2142. Among the elements of this agreement was that the university submit "a plan to OCR for its review that will describe the efforts the University has made and will make for the use of assistive technology to ensure that students with disabilities have access to computer hardware and software that is comparable to that provided to other University students. . ."

Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama et al. v. Garrett et al. United States Supreme Court case number 99-1240, decided February 21, 2001. Considered whether a state employee's federal lawsuit asserting that the state violated Title I of the Americans With Disability Act is barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights letter of January 25, 1996, (Docket Number 09-95-2206) to a university in response to a student's complaint "alleging a violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II). Specifically, the complainant alleged that: 1) the University failed to provide him access to the "Internet", and 2) the University failed to complete the "Self Evaluation Plan" required by Title II."

United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights letter of April 7, 1997, (Docket Number 09-97-2002) to a university in response to a student complaint "alleging that the University is failing to provide access to blind and low vision students with respect to its library resources, campus publications, and its open computer laboratories located within the various departments.  The complaint further alleged that there is insufficient student training on adaptive technology for blind users and that inadequate provisions are being made with regard to computers for test-taking by blind students."

United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights letter of January 22, 1998, (Docket Number 09-97-6001) regarding a "statewide compliance review under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504)" for a system of state colleges. "This compliance review focuses on the status of community colleges in meeting their obligation under Title II and Section 504 to provide students with visual impairments access to print and computer-based information. The review examines whether students with visual impairments, particularly blind students, are accorded an equal educational opportunity. . ., or whether they are being discriminated against on the basis of their disability. . ."

United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights letter of April 20, 1999, (Docket Number 09-99-2041) to a university in response to a complaint by a student who was blind. The complaint alleged that: "1) The computer laboratories/classes . . . are not equipped with adaptive technology. . . . 2) Her course assigned textbooks, which contain substantial amounts of graphs and charts, were not made accessible to her. 3) With respect to a particular . . . course, the instructor refused to provide her access to overhead transparencies and to implement the appropriate accommodations for the course's final examination. 4) The doors of the offices of the College instructors are not marked in a manner that enable her to identify the occupant instructor."

United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Settlement Agreement of March 14, 2002, (Complaint Number 202-24-10) details numerous specific modifications the university will make in accordance with ADA Standards for Accessible Design.


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