The University of Montana will develop new accessibility policies and train employees on disability issues under an agreement reached with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

The agreement, announced Wednesday, outlines a set of procedures the school will take to resolve a student complaint filed in 2012.

The complaint alleged UM was discriminating against disabled students by using technology that was inaccessible to the visually impaired, including electronic class assignments, library databases, videos and course registration materials, among other things.

“We want to make sure the technology we use on our websites, in our classrooms and in our offices are available to all,” UM President Royce Engstrom said Wednesday. “We are committed to making sure that all students have access to education, and in today’s world, that includes access to technology.”

As defined by the agreement, “accessible” means those with a disability are able to acquire the same information and engage in the same interactions – and within the same time frame – as those without disabilities.

The agreement applies to nearly all aspects of technology used to educate today’s students, from electronic textbooks to library services and video feeds.

Amy Capolupo, the university’s director of Disability Services for Students, said the school has moved to correct the findings and meet the demands outlined by the Office of Civil Rights.

She said the school has repositioned its resources through the newly created Office of Accessible Technology Services.

“It’s going to be handling captioning, document conversions, troubleshooting and any kind of issues that may arise,” said Capolupo. “They’ll be testing technology before we ever deploy it on campus. They’ll also be helping with faculty and staff training.”

The issues pertain to students who may be visually impaired, or suffer from attention deficit disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder, among other disabilities.

A document scanned as an image-only PDF, for example, cannot be recognized by the university’s screen-reading software, though it can read a text-based PDF to students who cannot see.

Capolupo estimated that 400 UM students have barriers to print. Raising awareness across campus and training faculty and staff can help correct many of the findings.

“We’re still on the lookout for more barriers,” said Capolupo. “Someone with a print disability needs to be able to look at a document and read it the same way as someone without a sight disability.”

UM has two years to fully implement the remedial actions outlined in the agreement.

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

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(4) comments

Leadfoot

Seems that this project has been given the same amount of consideration as has been given to campus security. There won't be a need for ramps, etc if student enrollment continues to drop. Unless something major is done, it will. Without healthy tuition income for the U, there won't be funds to pay for said handicap improvements. I suggest that you put up a plethora of video surveillance cameras. These are mandatory to reassure parents of students that UM is sincere in it's efforts to make the campus safer. Remember, this is the law school that has produced most of the Einsteins running the Co. Atty's office & that have made the decision to make multiple appeals of in-court defeats over stealing land from South Ave residents. Oh yeah, they feel that the Condemnation of our city water supply is also a good idea. Cover the campus with video cameras.

Been There

Years ago, one of my work study jobs was working in the office of disabilities. I became disillusioned very quickly at the lack of knowledge of those who were supposed to be advocates for students with disabilities. I am talking 1992 which probably explains the lack of knowledge. I had been a parent volunteer advocate for persons for 18 years prior to my admission to the University of Montana and had taken part in many task forces (state and local) that began setting up programs for students with disabilities. The gentleman in charge did not want my input on newly developed programs. I quit in disgust. This is way overdue. Who knows how many students with disabilities dropped out of the University because they couldn;t get the services they were entitled to? I did not want to be a part of that. I am glad this is finally happening. It is a long overdue start.

BWO

Why didn't the university do the right thing all along? You have a law school right? So, the ADA was enacted in 1990...I'm no math major but hey, that's ...let's see....24 years ago!!! Glad you got right out in front of this one folks! So much for the progressiveness of higher ed, huh? What happens to all those folks you discriminated against?

Jo Page
Jo Page

This all sounds good, but, how about the safety of these students? During all the snowfall of this winter a blind student using a cane wandered off the sidewalks because there were no distinct berms. He became lost, fortunately a professor saw him and assisted him to his destination. When the Disabled Students Association asked the University to provide assistance to these students during such inclement weather, the University said they couldn't afford to do that. I guess it's much less expensive to not only risk the lives of these students but also place the University at jeopardy of lawsuits if someone is injured or dies because of carelessness. I do not understand why everything to assist the disabled is always a battle.

After being a strong supporter of our University, I am becoming very disillusioned by the administration.

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