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Using the AHEAD Program Standards and Performance Indicators as a Strategy to Ensure Electronic Access

By Dr. Janice Emerzian and Gaeir Dietrich


In our last article, we shared with our readers the basic definition of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (504) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (508), and, who is responsible for compliance. In this article, we hope to discuss with our readers how colleges and universities can develop a strategy to comply with all three of these federal laws using the Association on Higher Education And Disability’s (AHEAD) Program Standards and Performance Indicators. For those of you who may not have seen the last article, we begin with a quick review of each of these three federal acts.

The ADA is a vast law, but it has three sections of particular interest to colleges and universities: Title II (for public institutions), Title III (for private institutions), and the ADA Architectural Standards (applies to facilities, stadiums, etc.). The area of particular interest, for those of us in education working with students with disabilities, is that Title II and Title III both focus on accommodating individuals through the provision of “auxiliary aids and services” to ensure full participation. The architectural standards, on the other hand, focus on access (i.e., infrastructure).

Section 504 applies to any college or university that accepts federal funding and requires that persons with disabilities be afforded an equal opportunity to participate in their programs and benefit equally from their services, including the provision of accessible communication and information to employees and members of the public. The focus, again, is on accommodations.

Section 508, as written,is limited to federal agencies, and in some cases, a limited set of federal contractors. It does not apply directly to the private sector. A number of states, including California, have passed state laws that require various state entities to comply with the Section 508 Standards. In California, these state laws apply to the California Community Colleges and the California State Universities. The focus of Section 508 is access, rather than accommodation, and in particular, it is access to Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

Please note that you will see technology referred to in various ways depending on which state or federal information you are reading: Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Electronic & Information Technology (E&IT), Electronic and Information Resources (EIR), etc. We will use ICT in this article.

In enhancing access to technology, Section 508 has a strategy based on two prongs: (1) developing ICT, including websites, online courses, online documents, emails, etc. and (2) purchasing ICT, including learning software, apps, computers, office machines, etc.

Responsibilities under ADA, 504, and 508 can overlap. All three of these statutes impose different, but somewhat related, obligations that are intended to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination based on their disabilities by ensuring equal access to programs and services. The overall college would follow the ADA architectural standards and Section 508 to ensure an accessible physical and electronic infrastructure. Disability services then steps in to follow the ADA and Section 504 to accommodate individual needs in cases where that infrastructure falls short.

AHEAD Program Standards and Performance Indicators

The Association on Higher Education And Disability (AHEAD) has established Program Standards and Performance Indicators for the field to assist Disability Service Professionals to enhance service provisions for college and university students with disabilities by guiding program evaluation and development efforts, improving personnel preparation and staff development, and expanding the vision of disability service at the postsecondary level. The authors offer these 8 standards (listed below) with recommendations on how professionals can apply these standards to technology to create access.

  1. Consultation/Collaboration
  2. Information Dissemination
  3. Faculty/Staff Awareness
  4. Academic Adjustments
  5. Counseling and Self-Determination
  6. Policies and Procedures
  7. Program Administration and Evaluation
  8. Training and Professional Development


  • Foster collaboration with college administration to ensure computer software and systems will permit all persons to acquire the same information and engage in the same interactions as everyone else.
  • Support collaboration between disability services (DS) and administration as it pertains to ICT.
  • Collaborate with campus committees such as Distance Education, Technology Advisory, President’s Cabinet, Dean’s Cabinet, Academic Senate, etc. regarding compliance requirements of ADA, 504 and 508.
  • Work with campus Facilities Committee and Technology Advisory Committee to foster campus understanding of accessible ICT hardware and software standards for on-site and off-site programs and services.
  • Support students with disabilities involvement in decision-making processes for ICT.
  • Provide disability representation on all campus committees affecting ICT.

Information Dissemination:

  • Ensure access and ease of use for all on and off-site ICT, Learning Management Systems (LMS), and web sites.
  • Facilitate compliance with ICT for electronic documents by ensuring that all staff creating such documents understand the rules of creating accessibility
  • Ensure campus constituents are knowledgeable of differences between ICT “access” (for all), and timely “academic accommodations” (case-by-case for students with disabilities).
  • Work with campus grievance policies to include ICT issues.
  • Provide campus personnel with information on Section 508 Standards for acquisition of materials, equipment, and all ICT.

Faculty and Staff Awareness:

  • Inform faculty regarding ICT compliance in all online courses, online documents, and online videos
  • Make sure faculty understand procedures that students with disabilities need to know for arranging academic accommodations.
  • Reinforce faculty and staff understanding of “access” (for all) and “academic accommodations” (case by case) for students with disabilities.
  • Foster administration and faculty training on ICT jointly with Information Technology (IT) services.
  • Collaborate with staff development committees to offer training to enhance institutional understanding of accessible ICT.
  • Ensure, with faculty input, that all computer hardware, software and equipment on college campus are accessible for all students with disabilities using assistive technology.
  • Collaborate for campus accessibility to all ICT for colleges and universities websites, Learning Management Systems (LMS), subscription-based software, and digital library services.

Academic Adjustments:

  • Document in student’s Student Education Plan (SEP) ICT needs and request for “timely academic adjustments.”
  • Determine student’s preference for appropriate academic adjustments to augment access to ICT.
  • Review any diagnostic testing and preliminary documentation to determine student’s need for accessible ICT.
  • Ensure faculty and staff understand needs for “timely” academic adjustments in addition to accessible ICT.

Counseling and Self Determination:

  • Include in Disability Services Program Review’s mission statement a commitment to promoting self-determination for students with disabilities for use of accessible ICT.
  • Create a process and delivery system for requests and use of accessible ICT that promotes self-determination
  • Offer training on assistive technology, as needed, to ensure student independence.

Policies and Procedures:

  • Review and revise annually all DS, college, and District (if applicable) policies and procedures to include full access for students with disabilities to ICT.
  • Review and revise, or create if not available, policies and procedures for students to receive “timely” accessible ICT, including interim periods.
  • Assist and participate in campus committees in creating policies and procedures for “timely” accessible ICT and documentation guidelines to determine eligibility.
  • Collaborate with Student Services, Student Affairs, and Academic Senates to develop, review and revise any policies regarding student’s responsibilities for accessible ICT.

Program Administration and Evaluation:

  • Align DS Program Review to include ease of accessing ICT for students with disabilities, with campus and District (if applicable) mission, program reviews and accreditation standards.
  • Guide Program Review and Accreditation Committees to include effectiveness of accessible ICT in reporting templates and findings.
  • Collaborate with Institutional Research office to collect student feedback to measure satisfaction of receiving timely accessible ICT.
  • Develop internal annual report using qualitative and quantitative data measuring the effectiveness of accessible ICT
  • Collaborate with purchasing departments for selection of accessible ICT.

Training and Professional Development:

  • Provide campus administration, faculty, and DS staff opportunities for training on how to develop accessible online materials.
  • Ensure that anyone making purchasing decisions about ICT understands how to “buy accessible” under Section 508.
  • Encourage use of staff development funds for training of personnel.
  • Participate in new faculty and staff orientations and workshops including information and guidance on developing accessible online materials.
  • Train all DS personnel on relevant Code of Ethics (e.g., see AHEAD website).


In conclusion, access to technology should be as great, and as equally effective, as the access to facilities and services that have been provided historically under the ADA and 504. Access to technology may seem new and unfamiliar, but that unfamiliarity should not lead to a lesser level of compliance with the law or ability to participate for individuals with disabilities. The authors recommend that colleges and universities look for ways that access to ICT can be added into standard campus processes and procedures, just as we have looked at the AHEAD Program Standards and Performance Indicators through a new lens so it can be used as a template for compliance for accessible ICT.

In our next article we plan to share with our readers “risks” that colleges and universities have experienced by not complying with ADA, 504 and 508 along with recommendations on how to avoid these risks.

About the Authors

Gaeir Dietrich is a consultant and trainer on access, assistive technology, alternate media, universal design, and Section 508 compliance. She is the former director of the High Tech Center Training Unit (HTCTU) of the California community colleges and has served on the advisory boards for AHEAD, Bookshare, the DIAGRAM Center, the Alternate Text Production Center (ATPC), the Access Text Network (ATN), and the Silicon Valley Independent Living Center (SVILC). In 2010-2011, she served as the chair for the Federal Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) in Postsecondary Education, which delivered a consensus congressional report. She is a contributing author to Beyond the Americans with Disabilities Act, published by NASPA.  Dr. Janice Emerzian, co-chair of CAPED PM CIG, former District Administrator DSP&S State Center Community College District, ADA Consultant and professor of graduate studies, has served on numerous state and national boards for persons with disabilities.