OFFICE OF THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY
Specifically, some postsecondary institutions were using electronic book readers
that are inaccessible to students who are blind or have low vision. As explained
by the DCL, application of our long-standing nondiscrimination requirements
means that schools must provide an electronic book reader (i.e., the
technology that the school uses to provide educational benefits, services,
or opportunities) that is fully accessible to students who are blind or have
low vision; otherwise schools must provide accommodations or modifications
to ensure that the benefits of their educational program are provided to these
students in an equally effective and equally integrated manner.
- Does the DCL apply in the context of students with other disabilities that affect the ability to use printed materials?
For the purposes of assessing whether accommodations or modifications in the context of emerging technology, and, more specifically, electronic book readers, meet the compliance requirements, the DCL provides a functional definition of accessibility for students who are blind or have low vision. Under this definition, these students must be afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as sighted students. In addition, although this might not result in identical ease of use compared to that of students without disabilities, it still must ensure equal access to the educational benefits and opportunities afforded by the technology and equal treatment in the use of such technology. The DCL uses the term “substantially equivalent ease of use” to describe this concept. For more information and for examples that meet this standard, see Questions 11, 12, and 14.
A: Yes. Other disabilities, such as specific learning disabilities, may make it difficult for students to get information from printed sources (often called “print disabilities”). In its provision of benefits, services, and opportunities, a school must ensure that these students are not discriminated against as a result of inaccessible technology.
Example: A student has a learning disability in reading but does not have impaired vision. The student is currently receiving audiobooks on cassette tape for her history class because she cannot readily process printed information. The school is replacing the history textbooks with electronic book readers as the principal means of conveying curriculum content, including all homework assignments. In this example, the electronic book readers provide greater functionality than audiobooks provide, with the result that an audiobook would not afford the benefits of the educational program in an equally effective and equally integrated manner. For this reason the school may not continue to rely on audiobooks to provide equal access to the curriculum. For more information on the differences between traditional alternative media, such as audiobooks, and emerging technology, such as electronic book readers, see Question 12.