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Welcome to the March  2017 issue of the CommonLook Accessibility Newsletter!

We had an excellent time at CSUN 2017.  It was a chance to exchange ideas and learn  more about the accessibility challenges facing the Higher Ed  Community.

When it comes to accessibility and education, it’s important to understand that there is no single set of standards or laws that applies.  This month we explore the different regulations and each one’s prominence in our Primer on Accessibility and Education

For those of you that idn’t make it to San Diego, we are offering an opportunity to learn  more about  Campus 101  in our limited time Campus 101 Webinar.

Not sure about your lecel of document complinace download our Free CommonLook PDF Validator.

As always, we welcome your suggestions for upcoming topics and would like to know what you think of  CommonLook’s  Accessibility Newsletter.

The CommonLook Newsletter Team


Primer  on Acessibility and Education

All levels of educational entities need to accommodate students with disabilities so they can participate fully in the school experience.  The nature of these accommodations and the conditions under which they are provided is determined by the status of the educational institution (elementary, public, private, and higher education).

In the United States, this means understanding the distinctions and requirements between various laws involving accessibility, education, and civil rights. The education of students with disabilities is a critical priority at all levels, as success in education is a predictor of success in adult life. For students with disabilities, a good education can be the difference between a life of dependence and non-productivity and a life of independence and productivity. As a result, complex sets of laws have evolved around disability and education to provide the most appropriate accommodations to students with disabilities based upon their needs and where they find themselves in their academic careers.


In the arena of Higher Education, there is a common misconception that an institution’s accessibility requirements are typically satisfied through the services of an office dedicated to providing accommodations to students with disabilities.

These offices, however, are only one manifestation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 requires that institutions of higher education that receive Federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education provide students with disabilities the same opportunity to engage in educational experiences as non-disabled students.  It involves students who voluntarily disclose (self-identify) that they have a disability provide documentation of that disability and meet the eligibility requirements that entitle them to receive approved accommodations (referred to as appropriate academic adjustments in Section 504), such as modifications of programs or auxiliary aids, in order to participate in programs and activities.

It’s Section 504 that, among other provisions, relaxes copyright restrictions allowing educational institutions to create derivative products transforming hardcopy textbooks to accessible electronic versions or into Braille. But accessibility does not allow for copyright violations; distribution of these so-called derivative products is limited to the self-identified student who qualifies for the accommodation.

Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act applies to colleges and universities receiving federal financial assistance. The mandates of the ADA apply to all institutions of higher education, regardless of the receipt of federal funds.

The ADA protects fundamental rights and extends equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities to the areas of public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. Colleges and universities are public accommodations and as such need to provide accessible access to faculty, staff, students, prospective students, parents and guardians, and the general public. This extends to such activities as applying for admissions or learning about the institution from its website.

Public institutions also fall under the provisions of Title II of the ADA. Title II prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all services, programs, and activities provided to the public by State and local governments, except public transportation services. Unlike section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which only covers programs receiving Federal financial assistance, title II extends to all the activities of State and local governments, whether or not they receive Federal funds. Public transportation services operated by State and local governments are covered by regulations of the Department of Transportation.

It is Title II that makes it necessary for the university to provide an accessible learning management system, accessible access to university services, and programs to all, whether or not they self-identify.


Section 504 also applies to public elementary education. The Section 504 regulations require a school district to provide a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to each qualified student with a disability who is in the school district’s jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability.

In addition to Section 504, for students ages 3 to 22 there exists the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which provides special education services for school-age children. Special education is instruction specifically designed to meet the educational and developmental needs of children with disabilities, or those who are experiencing developmental delays.

IDEA provides early intervention services for preschoolers and services for school-age children in grades Kindergarten through 12.

IDEA is based on the understanding that adaptations, accommodations, and modifications need to be individualized for students, based upon their needs and their personal learning styles and interests.  It is not always obvious what adaptations, accommodations, or modifications would be beneficial for a particular student, or how changes to the curriculum, its presentation, the classroom setting, or student evaluation might be made. Thus, students seeking to obtain services available to them under IDEA must be evaluated.

For preschoolers, IDEA provides early interventions services. Early intervention is intended for infants and toddlers who have a developmental delay or disability. Eligibility is determined by evaluating the child (with parents’ consent) to see if the little one does, in fact, have a delay in development or a disability. Eligible children can receive early intervention services from birth through the third birthday (and sometimes beyond).

Once in grade school, if a child is found to be a child with a disability, as defined by IDEA, he or she is eligible for special education and related services. Within 30 calendar days after a child is determined eligible, a team of school professionals and the parents must meet to write an individualized education program (IEP) for the child.

After the IEP is written, services are provided. The child’s IEP is reviewed by the IEP team at least once a year, or more often if the parents or school ask for a review. If necessary, the IEP is revised. Parents, as team members, must be invited to participate in these meetings. Parents can make suggestions for changes, can agree or disagree with the IEP, and agree or disagree with the placement.

The child is continuously evaluated. At least every three years the child must be reevaluated. This evaluation is sometimes called a “triennial.” Its purpose is to find out if the child continues to be a child with a disability, as defined by IDEA, and what the child’s educational needs are. However, the child must be reevaluated more often, if conditions warrant, or if the child’s parent or teacher asks for a new evaluation.


When it comes to accessibility and education, it’s important to understand that there is no single set of standards or laws that apply. In addition to the rights for persons with disabilities which are guaranteed by the ADA, the nature of the accommodations and services that are provided for students with disabilities is determined by both eligibility criteria and where they are in the course of their academic careers. What is clear is the education of students with disabilities is an important priority for educators, the government, and society at large.


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  • Challenges faced by Higher Ed  Institutions
  • The CommonLook 3-Tiered Approach to Document Accessibility
  • The Role of Accessibility Standards in the Higher Education Community
  • How Campus  101’s multi-faceted approach eases compliance issues
  • And More!  Get Your Questions Answered By  Our Accessibility Experts

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