An Ohio University has settled a lawsuit with a former student who claimed the University did not accommodate her disability. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by state and local government entities, including colleges and universities. Title III of the ADA likewise prohibits disability discrimination by private educational institutions.
Aleeha Dudley, a blind student pursuing a degree in zoology with hopes of attending veterinary school, filed the lawsuit against Miami University. According to the National Federation of the Blind, which assisted Dudley, the complaint, originally filed in January of 2014, alleges that Miami University violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by deliberately failing to make necessary modifications for Ms. Dudley so that she could complete her coursework.
About 9 percent of all undergraduates in higher education report having a disability, a percentage that has tripled in the last two decades. This amounts to about 1.3 million students, reported The Institute for Higher Education Policy. This means that Universities must access their compliance under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on a regular basis to avoid expensive litigation or Department of Justice (DOJ) reviews.
“Ms. Dudley is only one of many blind students who experience frustrating and unnecessary barriers to a full and equal education in our nation’s institutions of higher education,” said Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, in a statement at the time the lawsuit was filed.
According to the lawsuit Miami University:
Denied Ms. Dudley an opportunity equal to that afforded her sighted peers to course materials and educational technology and, as a result, have denied her the opportunity to learn in an equally effective and integrated manner alongside her sighted peers.
That denial has stemmed, in part, from Miami’s selection of software programs that gratuitously exclude Ms. Dudley from integrated access to Miami’s programs and activities.
Moreover, Miami has failed to provide Ms. Dudley timely and adequate access to
(1) Braille textbooks,
(2) useful tactile graphics,
(3) timely course materials in an accessible format including handouts, assignments, PowerPoint presentations, and class notes, and
(4) trained assistants to allow full and meaningful participation in all class activities.
“Braille is Ms. Dudley’s primary reading method. Miami has not reliably provided Ms. Dudley with embossed Braille content,” the lawsuit states.
According to a report in The Miami Student, the lawsuit also claimed the University denied her adequate tools and equipment to succeed in the classroom. It also specifically stated that her course material on Niihka and her Degree Audit Report (DARs) — both essential tools for learning — were inaccessible.
“Sadly, this is not the first time that blind students and/or the National Federation of the Blind have had to file suit against a university, and we fear that it will not be the last,” The National Federation of the Blind spokesman Chris Danielsen said. “Miami is not a rogue player here. Despite warnings from the Department of Education and the Department of Justice about inaccessible technology and the clear requirements of the law, universities routinely ignore or do not fully comply with requirements that they treat their students with disabilities equally.”
In May of 2015, the Justice Department filed a motion to intervene and agreed in the complaint that Miami University violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by requiring current and former students with disabilities to use inaccessible websites and learning management system software, and by providing these students with inaccessible course materials.
“Miami University’s websites, e.g., http://www.miamioh.edu, have barriers that make the websites difficult to use with screen reader software; these barriers include, for example, a revolving carousel of news stories on the home page and numerous untagged PDF documents,” the complaint read.
“Miami University has failed to provide current and former students with vision and hearing disabilities materials in non-technological formats, such as hard copy Braille and tactile graphics, or with services such as priority seating in classrooms.
“Buildings throughout Miami University lack Braille room numbers, significantly impairing or making impossible navigation by individuals with vision disabilities.”
Local 12 filed this report (below) at the time:
“Miami University uses technologies that are inaccessible to current and former students who have vision, hearing or learning disabilities. Miami University has failed to ensure that individuals with disabilities can interact with its websites and learning management systems and access course assignments, textbooks and graphical materials on an equal basis with students without disabilities. Miami’s failures have deprived persons with disabilities of a full and equal opportunity to benefit from Miami University’s educational opportunities,” the Department of Justice (DOJ) explained in their press release.
“Many students with disabilities, including those who have vision, hearing or learning disabilities, require assistive technologies to use computers and interact with electronic content. Examples of assistive technologies include screen reader software, refreshable Braille displays, audio description, captioning and keyboard navigation. Screen reader software audibly reads aloud information that is otherwise presented visually on a computer screen; refreshable Braille displays convert digital text into Braille; captioning translates video narration and sound into text; and keyboard navigation allows individuals with visual or manual dexterity disabilities to access computer content using a keyboard rather than a mouse,” they added.
Accessibility issues are causing litigation to a host of Universities across the nation. Today, city and county leaders, unaware that the ADA addresses more than just access to restrooms and doorway clearances, could be exposing their municipality to a Department of Justice review. According to Kristi Avalos, an accessibility expert and the president and CEO of Accessology, spending millions of dollars without achieving compliance adds to the risk of DOJ involvement. Avalos, whose company consults in accessibility related work full time, points out that technology, emergency procedures, signage and hiring processes are among a myriad of areas the ADA also addresses.
Following their 2016 settlement with Dudley, Miami University released this statement which read in part:
Miami University has reached a settlement with former student Aleeha Dudley in a lawsuit that alleged that Miami did not adequately provide materials and technology to support Dudley, who is blind, in her pursuit of a bachelor’s degree.
Miami will cover expenses of tuition, books, room and board at Ohio State University toward a four-year undergraduate degree for Dudley. Miami will pay actual costs up to $108,000, as costs are incurred, for up to five years. Miami will also pay $142,000 less repaid loan amounts that are estimated to be between $40,000-$50,000.
“While Miami continues to deny any liability, the settlement avoids the cost of litigation and permits Dudley to pursue her education elsewhere,” the statement reads.
Since the lawsuit, Miami University said it has instituted several initiatives to better serve people with disabilities, including:
• Formation of an Accessible Technology Committee.
• Naming of an accessibility coordinator.
• Hiring of a Web accessibility coordinator.
• Launching a search for an accessible technology specialist.
• Launching a new software platform for serving the accommodation requests of disabled students.
• Continuing to train faculty on making accessible course content and training Web editors on many factors of Web accessibility.
NOTE: If you are a University, college or any other public entity and you would like to review your compliance under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or develop a comprehensive ADA Transition Plan, contact Accessology here www.accessology.com