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Miami University Ohio Legal Complaint

Synopsis

On January 10th, 2014, an individual who is blind (assisted by the National Federation of the Blind) filed a lawsuit with the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio Western Division alleging that Miami University of Ohio failed to provide equal access to course materials. The suit alleges that “Miami has denied Ms. Dudley an opportunity equal to that afforded her sighted peers to course materials and educational technology and, as a result, has denied her the opportunity to learn in an equally effective and integrated manner alongside her sighted peers.” The lawsuit specifically alleges that the University:

  • Purchased and deployed inaccessible course technologies including
    • Learning Management System (Sakai-based)
      • Procurement Touchpoints:
        • 1.5 Developed a process for all competitive bid procurements that require an evaluation of Section 508 compliance.
      • IM Touchpoints:
        • 4.2: Screened the campus LMS to determine conformance with accessibility standards and established a plan to address/work-around identified gaps
        • 4.3: Guidelines for submitting course materials hosted in campus LMS
    • Online course registration system
      • Procurement Touchpoints:
        • 1.5 Developed a process for all competitive bid procurements that require an evaluation of Section 508 compliance.
    • Online course assignment systems (e.g. TurnItIn, SmartWorks, LearnSmart, WebAssign, My StatLab, StatCrunch)
      • Procurement Touchpoints:
        • 1.5 Developed a process for all competitive bid procurements that require an evaluation of Section 508 compliance.
        • 1.6 Developed a process for all non-competitive bid procurements that require an evaluation of Section 508 compliance.
    • Online document storage and collaboration systems (e.g. Google Apps)
    • Touch screens that are inaccessible for basic dorm life functions
      • Procurement Touchpoints:
        • 1.5 Developed a process for all competitive bid procurements that require an evaluation of Section 508 compliance.
        • 1.6 Developed a process for all non-competitive bid procurements that require an evaluation of Section 508 compliance.
  • Didn’t provide proper auxiliary aids and services in an equal or timely manner
    • Textbooks provided  in Braille format were inadequate (e.g. lacked structure for navigation or text equivalents and were not provided in a timely manner
    • Visual components of course materials were not provided as tactile graphics (or the tactile graphics provided were inadequate)
    • Other course materials such as Power Point presentations and class notes were posted in accessible formats (e.g. scanned PDFs or lack structure or text equivalents)
      • IM Touchpoints:
        • 7.1: Formally documented faculty responsibility for selecting/authoring AIM
        • 7.2: Mechanisms to encourage faculty authoring/adoption of AIM
        • 7.3: Developed/disseminated examples of accessible materials/practices
        • 7.4: Specified resources (technology and personnel) necessary to support faculty
        • 8.1: Formal awareness campaign regarding accessibility issues/responsibilities
        • 8.2: Capacity in support of this awareness campaign
        • 8.3: Developed/disseminated a variety of training materials for selecting, authoring, and distributing AIM
        • 8.5: Tracking participation in training activities and usage of training materials for AIM
    • Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) content was not represented in suitable formats (e.g. MathML)
  • Didn’t make reasonable modifications to policies, procedures and practices
    • Procurement Touchpoints:
      • 1.0 Procurement Procedures:  An ATI Electronic and Information Technology (E&IT) Procurement Plan, documents, forms, and other materials to support 508 procurements at the campus are created and published.
    • IM Touchpoints:
      • 3.4: Campus has implemented a system to track the timeliness of alternate media requests.
  • Failed to maintain technology accessibility policies and procedures
  • Didn’t provide timely and equal communication
    • Procurement Touchpoints:
      •  6.3 Established an ongoing general campus communication that promotes E&IT procurement awareness.

VI. Miami’s Deliberate Indifference to Equal Educational Opportunity

  • The Departments of Justice and Education wrote the presidents of all American post-secondary institutions in “Dear Colleague Letter” June 2010 to advise them that
    • Requiring use of an emerging technology in a classroom environment when the technology is inaccessible to an entire population of individuals with disabilities- individuals with visual disabilities- is discrimination prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) unless those individuals are provided accommodations or modifications that permit them to receive all the educational benefits provided by the technology in an equally effective and equally integrated manner.
  • To ensure that Miami understood its obligations and the path to carrying them out, the General Counsel for the University System of Ohio, Sloan Spalding, on behalf of the Board of Regents of the University System, wrote Miami and its sister Ohio colleges in November 2011 as follows:

Each of our University System of Ohio institutions is subject to the nondiscrimination requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA. Thus, vigilant compliance programs must be in place to review and monitor, on an ongoing basis, all websites established by schools and the various educational aids used at each school. It also is important to monitor online or web-based learning content created and used by our faculty to ensure full accessibility. Additionally, online programs that are provided by the school through a contractual or other arrangement also are under the obligation to make modifications to avoid disability-based discrimination.

Please consider directing your accessibility compliance staff to use the enclosed document to aid in their audit of your school’s use of existing and emerging electronic technology and learning aids. Hopefully, an audit will verify your efforts in complying with these federal requirements and further enrich the learning opportunities of all your students.

The plaintiff alleges that these barriers and failures to accommodate have essentially eliminated any chance of entering veterinary program following graduation. This is likely to be a significant factor in determining damages for this lawsuit.

References