Landmark Agreement Big Step Forward for Students with Print Disabilities

berkeley_studentsBerkeley, CA – May 7, 2013 – Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) and the University of California, Berkeley announced a settlement agreement today that will significantly improve information access for students with print related disabilities. The settlement puts in place a range of new policies and procedures to ensure that print disabled students have access to all of the written material students need to read to succeed in a university setting. The University’s Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Gibor Basri explained: “We live in the age of information. It is critical that students with print disabilities be able to take the same advantage of academic and employment opportunities as all Berkeley students.”

DRA’s Executive Director Larry Paradis commented that “Disability Rights Advocates commends the University of California, Berkeley for implementing this new system to break down barriers to higher education. UC Berkeley has taken on an important leadership role in addressing the barriers that all too often cause difficulty for students with print disabilities. This settlement is a model plan that colleges and universities should consider adopting nationwide.”

Pleased with the experience of engaging in the one year structured negotiations process, Paul Hippolitus, Director, Disabled Students’ Program remarked: “Throughout this process, I was especially proud of the University’s leadership, as well as our students and their representatives, for holding the same values and principles of equity and inclusion for students with disabilities. As the birth place of the disability rights movement, UC Berkeley has had a long and illustrious history of supporting disability rights. With this agreement, a new chapter in this history has been written. This process has again reminded me of the value of disability advocacy efforts, such as those of DRA — which help institutions reassess their position.”

Unfortunately, nationwide many students with print disabilities, e.g., vision, physical, developmental, or learning disabilities, are not only falling behind academically due to the rapid increase in inaccessible electronic information, but such students too often still struggle for access to standard hard copy print in textbooks, course readers, and library research materials. Hard copy printed materials become accessible by being converted into the student’s preferred alterna­tive formats such as digital text, Braille, large print, or audio.

The settlement reached today puts the University of California, Berkeley, on the forefront in implementing a comprehensive approach for rapidly converting into an accessible format both course reading assignments and library research materials. Given their vast printed resources, university research libraries especially face an extraordinary challenge in becoming accessible to those with print disabilities.

Under the settlement, the University has adopted multiple new policies to ensure access to the broad array of written materials that are part of a university education.  Highlights of the new policies include:

  • Students who request course materials in alternative media can now expect to receive textbooks in 10 business days and course readers in 17 business days.
  • The University has created and implemented a new Library print conversion system, the first of its kind in the nation, to enable students with print disabilities to request that a specific library book or journal be converted into an accessible digital format, with an average turnaround time of five business days.

Representing three students currently at UC Berkeley, DRA offered the University the opportunity to avoid a lawsuit by using a more collaborative problem-solving approach called the   structured negotiations process. This process involved actively soliciting feedback from the student disability community at UC Berkeley through online surveys and in person focus groups.  The parties also brought in a joint expert to consult and advise on best practices.              

Read the settlement

Read the fact sheet


Laurence Paradis, Disability Rights Advocates, Executive Director, 510-665-8644

Janet Gilmore for U.C. Berkeley [Public Affairs (510) 642-5685]


Quotes from participants in the settlement

Representative Students

One of the representative students who participated in the settlement, David Jaulus, said: “I am very proud to have been a part of this settlement process. Getting accessible course materials for students like myself with physical and visual challenges is essential to have an equal chance at academic success. With this settlement, I hope that students with print disabilities will finally be on an even playing field when it comes to getting course materials.”

Another representative student, Brandon King, explained “I was proud to come to Cal knowing that the disability rights movement was spearheaded here. This agreement is a serious first step in the right direction for students, like me, with learning disabilities. Having access to library materials for the first time in a format where I can enjoy the reading at a decent pace is priceless.”

Representative student Tabitha Mancini said enthusiastically, “It has always been a dream of mine to have full access to the campus library system so that I can do research, and I’m very happy this will now be a reality for all UC Berkeley Students. This is especially true given UC Berkeley’s prominence as a research institution in the U.S.”

UC Berkeley representatives

Reflecting on the daunting task faced by libraries committed to serving the research needs of today’s student, Elizabeth Dupuis, Associate University Librarian, UC Berkeley Library, said: “In courses from all majors, students’ interests often transcend the bounds of assigned readings and reach deep into our library collections.  At Berkeley we encourage students to be intellectually curious and explore widely, and that includes research using both digital and print collections.  Last year we heard from students who wanted to use printed library materials but needed them to be digitized in order to read them using screen reader software or other specialized tools. We are highly motivated to find solutions that will enable us to respond to this need.” For example, the library has recently purchased a new state of the art book scanner that allows rapid conversion of hard copy bound books into accessible electronic digital text.

“The campus approached resolution of the issues raised by the Disability Rights Advocates as an opportunity to look for best practices in areas where making accessible a large volume of printed materials (such as Library holdings) requires innovative new ideas.” added Sarah Hawthorne, Associate Campus Counsel/Assistant Provost, Disability Compliance. “We want to be part of the movement that is raising the expectations of those with print disabilities, who have a right to want accessible print as close in time as possible to when the information is provided to non-disabled students.”

Gaeir Dietrich, U.S. Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities, Chair; Director of the High Tech Center Training Unit of the California Community Colleges

During the negotiations the parties were provided significant assistance in understanding complex assistive technology issues with the help of Gaeir Dietrich, who is the Chair of the prestigious U.S. Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities (“AIM Commission”) and Director of the High Tech Center Training Unit of the California Community Colleges. She observed: “The advent of the digital age has created unprecedented opportunity for individuals with disabilities. At the same time, we are struggling to realize that opportunity. The vast majority of digital materials are still inaccessible.  In order for individuals with disabilities to realize their own potential, students, libraries, and campus staff must all work together to address the issue of accessibility.”