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UM Agreement to Improve Services to Students with Disabilities

March 19, 2014

MISSOULA – The University of Montana has reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights to ensure educational accessibility for people with disabilities at UM.

The resolution agreement outlines a comprehensive set of policies and procedures so all electronic and information technology at UM can be used by the blind and other students with disabilities.

“The University of Montana is committed to making sure that all students have access to education, and in today’s world that includes access to technology,” UM President Royce Engstrom said. “We want to make sure that the technology we use on our websites, in our classrooms and in our offices is available to all.”

The agreement stems from a May 2012 student complaint to OCR that UM was discriminating against students with disabilities. The complaint alleged that UM used online tools such as Web pages, library databases, live chats, videos and a course-registration site that were inaccessible.

When UM learned of the complaint, a task force quickly was created to start addressing the issues.

Among the terms of the agreement, UM will develop accessibility policies, train employees about disability issues, survey former and current students with disabilities to identify problems and develop a grievance procedure. A draft accessibility policy already is in place.

The full resolution agreement is online at http://bit.ly/1iCJVKn.      

The agreement covers technology used in all aspects of education and campus life, such as electronic textbooks, course materials, online registration, classroom technology and library services. The agreement specifically requires improvements to UM’s online learning management system, Moodle, and many of those already are in place.

Since 2012, a number of UM departments have collaborated to provide better access for all UM students and employees. Those include the Alliance for Disability and Students at UM, Information Technology, the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, Disability Services for Students, UMOnline, Student Affairs and the School of Extended and Lifelong Learning. In addition, the University has worked closely with experts at the National Federation of the Blind and the Office for Civil Rights, as well as international expert George Kerscher of Missoula, on accessibility.

“This agreement, which is the most comprehensive of its kind to date, represents a thorough and systematic approach that will benefit (UM) students for years to come and serve as a model for university policies and practices across the nation,” said Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind. “We applaud (UM) for the extraordinary commitment that it is making to ensure that all of its students, including those who are blind or who have other disabilities, receive the equal education that the law demands and the full benefit of the college experience that the University provides.”

UM technology leadership has put accessibility at the forefront with all new software purchases, website development and IT-related services, said Matt Riley, UM chief information officer. “Policy, an IT governance model and purchasing checks are in place to ensure that we stay on track,” he said. “UM looks forward to the opportunities for students, faculty and staff as we focus on staying among the leaders in higher education IT accessibility.”

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Contact: Peggy Kuhr, UM vice president for integrated communications, 406-243-2311, peggy.kuhr@umontana.edu; Amy Capolupo, UM Disability Services for Students director, 406-243-4584, amy.capolupo@umontana.edu.