Penn State Discriminates Against Blind Students and Faculty

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Penn State Discriminates Against Blind Students and Faculty

National Federation of the Blind Files Complaint Against Penn State

Baltimore, Maryland (November 12, 2010): The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the nation’s oldest and largest organization of blind people, announced today that it has filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, requesting an investigation of Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) for violating the civil rights of blind students and faculty.  The NFB filed the complaint because a variety of computer- and technology-based services and Web sites at Penn State are inaccessible to blind students and faculty.  Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires public state universities to offer equal access to their programs and services. 

The accessibility problems at Penn State include:

  • The library at Penn State hosts a Web site with access to the library catalog that is available to any registered student.  The Web site, however, is not fully accessible to blind students due to improper coding that prevents screen access software used by the blind from properly interpreting the site.
  • Many of Penn State’s departmental Web sites are not fully accessible to the blind, including, ironically, the Web site for the Office of Disability Services.
  • Penn State utilizes the ANGEL course management system.  ANGEL is an integral part of the learning and teaching experience at Penn State that allows students and professors to interact with each other online and perform various course-related functions. This course management software is almost completely inaccessible to blind users.
  • Many teachers at Penn State use a “smart” podium, which allows the professor to connect his/her laptop to a computer at the podium and display images and videos loaded from the laptop on a screen at the front of the room.  The podium is operated by an inaccessible touchscreen keypad that controls almost all podium functions.  Thus, blind faculty members must rely on assistance from a sighted person to utilize the podium.
  • Penn State contracts with PNC Bank to enable students to use their identification cards as debit cards.  The PNC Web site is nearly inaccessible with screen access software, and there is only one ATM on the entire Penn State campus with audio output through a headphone jack so that blind students can use it privately and independently.

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The number and scope of the accessibility problems at Penn State demonstrate the institution’s blatant—and unlawful—lack of regard for the equal education of its blind students and failure to accommodate its blind faculty members and employees.  There is simply no excuse for blind students and faculty to be denied the same access to information and technology as their sighted peers.  Sadly, this cavalier attitude toward accessibility is found not only at Penn State, but at many of our nation’s colleges and universities.  That is why we have asked the United States Department of Education to act swiftly and decisively to ensure that blind students and faculty members are given the same access and opportunity to succeed as their sighted peers.”

The National Federation of the Blind is represented in this matter by Daniel F. Goldstein, Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum, and Brooke Lierman of the Baltimore firm Brown, Goldstein, and Levy.  For more information, please view the official complaint.

Chris Danielsen
Director of Public Relations
National Federation of the Blind
(410) 659-9314, extension 2330
(410) 262-1281 (Cell)