California Community Colleges: A Promising Practice in Alternate Media Accessibility Guidelines

Date Updated

One of the greatest challenges that students with print disabilities face in higher education is gaining access to alternate format materials such as Braille, large print, or electronic text. Higher education entities are often large and decentralized and sometimes have inadequate systems in place for responding in a timely and efficient manner to alternate format requests. Such was the case in 1996, when the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) undertook a statewide review of the accessibility of California Community Colleges' print and computer-based information to students with visual impairments. In OCR's report, the Chancellor's Office was asked to take steps in several areas to improve access for blind and visually impaired students. One of the areas was distance learning, which the Chancellor's Office addressed by implementing Distance Education Access Guidelines for Students with Disabilities.

Another area in which the California Community Colleges were asked to improve involved the provision of alternate media. OCR concluded that the Chancellor's Office should work to coordinate a statewide approach to streamline the process for converting hard copy print materials into alternate media.

As a result of this request, the Chancellor asked that a special Alternate Media Workgroup be established to advise staff on how to address the problems associated with producing alternate media. In April of 2000, the Chancellor's Office published the California Community Colleges Guidelines for Producing Instructional and Other Printed Materials in Alternate Media for Persons with Disabilities.

The guidelines contain two parts. Part I addresses how colleges should respond to requests for materials in alternate media. The following topics are covered:

  • Legal Requirements
  • Scope and Purpose
  • Basic Principles
  • Establishing Policies and Procedures
  • Types of Alternate Media
  • Verification of Disability and Functional Limitations
  • Individual Preference And Offering Alternatives
  • Analyzing Requests
  • Examples
  • Resolving Disputes
  • Considerations for Formatting E-text and Designing Software and Web Pages

Part II of the guidelines was written in response to Assembly Bill (AB) 422, which was signed into law on September 15, 1999, by California Governor Gray Davis. The law requires publishers of instructional material to provide the material at no cost in an electronic format for use by students with disabilities at the University of California, California State University, and California Community Colleges. AB 422 applies to textbooks and other materials that are written and published primarily for use by students in postsecondary instruction and that are required or essential to a student's success and are to be used by a student with a disability in a course in which the student is enrolled at the college. California Education Code, Section 67302, which was added by AB 422, provides that the Board of Governors must adopt guidelines for implementation of the law.

This second part of the document addresses issues and procedures as colleges obtain electronic text from publishers. The following topics are covered in Part II:

  • Scope and Purpose
  • Basic Coverage and Limitations of AB 422
  • Alternate Media Centers
  • Certification of Requests
  • Security of E-text
  • Determining Which Materials Are Required or Essential
  • File Formats
  • Mathematics and Science Materials
  • Nonprinted Instructional Materials
  • Revising Files Received from a Publisher
  • Recommended Process for Handling Requests
  • Encouraging Publishers to Enhance Accessibility

The guidelines also provide additional resources and sample forms and letters in appendices.

Although prompted by an OCR review, the California Community Colleges alternate media guidelines are an excellent model, having documented with exceptional detail the processes and considerations required for an educational entity to produce alternate format in a timely and efficient manner.