In the course of meeting the challenge of educating students against a backdrop of constantly evolving technology, our community colleges have the obligation to address the ongoing needs of students with disabilities. These needs are not confined to structural accommodations such as wider doorways and accessible restrooms. They also include the ability to access the colleges’ websites and other online technology, including class materials. In California, accessibility laws on both the federal and state levels require colleges to make all class materials available to students with disabilities in a format that accommodates their personal needs.
To ensure that this obligation is being met, the state of California recently conducted an audit of three community college districts — Los Rios Community College District, Foothill-De Anza Community College District, and Cerritos Community College District — reviewing one individual college within both Los Rios (American River College) and De Anza (Foothill College), and Cerritos Community College (a single-college district).
The focus of this audit was on each college’s compliance with federal and state accessibility standards. The auditors also looked closely at these colleges’ and districts’ processes for replacing and upgrading their IT equipment when necessary, including the planning process and financing of these actions.
The state’s report came to a couple of important conclusions: These colleges are not adequately monitoring compliance with standards for accessibility to technology, and they need the California Community College’s Chancellor’s Office to provide guidance to assist its colleges in supporting students with disabilities. The study also concluded that, while the community college districts plan for and fund IT needs, they unfortunately lack formalized written procedures to guide these processes, the development and implementation of which should also be achieved in concert with the Chancellor’s Office.
The auditor’s report not only identified these existing problems at each of the three college campuses, but it also provided specific recommendations to both the Chancellor’s Office and to the colleges/districts to ensure that the problems uncovered are addressed and rectified during the calendar year 2018. By June, the Chancellor’s Office is required to provide the necessary guidance to the colleges to establish a formal system to monitor whether or not all requests for instructional materials in alternate media formats are addressed in a timely manner.
Also by June, the report requires that the Chancellor’s Office assist the colleges in developing a protocol for periodically monitoring the accessibility of instructional materials. This directive ensures that students with disabilities have equal access to all instructional materials.
By September 2018, the audit requires that the Chancellor’s Office also provides guidance to colleges and districts for establishing written procedures for the processes involved in upgrading and replacing IT equipment and for documenting the attendees, input received, and agreements reached during department meetings, including those to consider IT equipment requests.
The audit’s recommendations to the colleges and districts basically mirror the mandates handed down to the Chancellor’s Office, and all parties accepted the recommendations of the audit, with the exception of Los Rios. Los Rios accepted the bulk of the recommendations and indicated that it plans to implement them; however, the district “disagreed with our recommendation to include a requirement in its next collective bargaining negotiations for instructors to periodically attend accessibility trainings,” according to the audit.
The Digital Community Colleges survey, administered annually by the Center for Digital Education, examines and documents the ways in which the nation’s community colleges are utilizing technology to serve their students, faculty and staff. Colleges’ participation represents not only an opportunity to earn national recognition for their achievements, but also to monitor their own progress in compliance with federal and state accessibility standards.