Recent court cases force colleges to ensure that blind students have equitable access, but offer no guidance on exactly how to meet the new obligations.

Allie Grasgreen of Inside Higher Ed has the details:

Louisiana Tech University’s agreement this week to stop using learning materials that limit access for students with visual disabilities signifies a broader shift in the extent to which colleges are expected to address accessibility, experts say.

That settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over allegations that the university violated the Americans with Disabilities Act is the latest in a series of cases this year, which, taken together, paint a fuller picture of what colleges must do to ensure students with visual impairments can access learning materials – if not exactly how they should do it.

“I think it is a game-changer for colleges,” said Lizanne DeStefano, an education professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who sat on the U.S. Education Department’s 2011 Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities.

“Most colleges provide services for students with visual impairment and other special needs as far as getting the materials,” DeStefano said. “But I think the timing and the quality of those materials vary widely from campus to campus, and this will probably raise the quality and shorten the time and equalize that variability a little bit.”

That way, a blind student might not have to go to some room across campus in the middle of the night to do homework because the technology is only in one place, or fall weeks behind in class while waiting for digital conversions of textbooks.

The Louisiana Tech settlement in particular goes further than previous statements by Justice in that it prohibits the university from buying any inaccessible materials in the future, and requires cooperation from faculty in ensuring that disabled students get what they need. “When you look at this as the most recent statement in a trend, it’s a very powerful trend,” said Scott Lissner, president of the Association on Higher Education and Disability.