• From: "Allison and Chip Orange" <acorange@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <tabi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 4 Jul 2011 20:25:37 -0400

Two blind students at Florida State University have sued the institution and
its Board of Trustees for discrimination, arguing that a mathematics course
at the university relied on e-learning systems that were not accessible to
the disabled.

The students, Christopher S. Toth and Jamie A. Principato, say they were
unable to access software used for homework and tests in their fall of 2009
math class. They say the course also relied on "clickers"-small
remote-control units that allow students to answer multiple-choice questions
during lectures-which were not accessible to them. They argue in their legal
complaint, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, that the
university is required under the Americans With Disabilities Act to make
such classroom materials accessible or provide viable alternatives.
The students' case was filed with help from the National Federation of the
Blind, which has filed similar accessibility complaints against Pennsylvania
State University and, most recently, against Northwestern University and New
York University.

The online software used at Florida State, called eGrade, is incompatible
with screen readers, which allows blind users to translate text to speech,
the students say. The mathematics department also required students to use a
type of clicker called PRS transmitters, which the students say do not
accommodate blind users.
Daniel F. Goldstein, a lawyer who is representing the students, said that
his firm has dealt with several complaints from students regarding software
and clicker inaccessibility, and he argued that accessibility of technology
is quickly becoming an issue as universities increase their use of digital
tools in the classroom.

"We're trying to get this on the radar of colleges and universities," Mr.
Goldstein said. "It's a race because all of this technology is multiplying
at a tremendous pace." He recommended that universities evaluate
applications prior to campuswide implementation, as California State
University did in its Accessible Technology Initiative.
Mr. Toth, a computer-science major, had tried to pass a math class three
times to meet state requirements that students pursuing bachelor's degrees
complete or test out of two math courses. Despite having arranged for
accommodations through the university's disability services, both Mr. Toth
and Ms. Principato were denied Braille copies of the class textbook, and the
professor failed to provide them with accessible versions of his lecture
notes, they allege.

Bea Awoniyi, director of the Student Disability Resource Center at the
university, said the center continues to grapple with accessibility issues
that arise out of technological advances, but she also acknowledged that
this particular case was unique in that students had cited issues with a
specific department.
The center continues  to work with the Office for Civil Rights "to make sure
that some compliance issues that were raised have been addressed," Ms.
Awoniyi said.
Officials for John Wiley & Son, which publishes the eGrade software, did not
return e-mailed requests for comment on Wednesday.
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