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Services for blind criticized

Letter notes lack of outlines and texts in Braille

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RICHFIELD — The state's colleges are not providing consistent services or decent educational materials for blind students, a state official told the Utah Legislature's Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee Friday.

After hearing the report from William E. Gibson, director of the state Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the agency that coordinates vocational rehabilitation services for the blind, Richard E. Kendell, commissioner of higher education, said he would appoint a task force to address the problems.

Gibson told the subcommittee, which was meeting at Snow College at Richfield, that his agency is responsible for seeing that education offered as part of vocational rehabilitation programs meets standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. That law requires schools to provide the same opportunities to the visually impaired as to their nondisabled peers.

Yet, he said, the agency continually receives complaints about disability resource centers (DRCs) at colleges and universities, and about the failure of Utah campuses to provide course outlines, textbooks and other learning materials in Braille or other formats blind students can use.

For example, Gibson said in a letter distributed to the subcommittee, DRC services are not consistent from campus to campus. Some centers complete the entire course registration process for students whether they need help or not, while others offer no help with registration even when students request assistance.

Some centers do not offer in-class help for blind students while others require them to use DRC-hired note takers, the letter said.

"Reader services are equally inconsistent, with some centers offering one-on-one reader services as the only accommodation for students, while others provide no live readers at all," Gibson's letter said.

One of the biggest problems blind students face, the letter said, is obtaining Braille materials in a timely fashion.

Although the Legislature has provided funding for the past 12 years to help Utah colleges serve blind students, and although some colleges have equipment for transcribing materials into Braille, none of the campus has trained transcribers.

Often, blind students do not receive the transcribed materials until late in the semester, Gibson said. By then, they are seriously behind in their classes. Frequently, the materials they do receive have "gross errors and inaccuracies" that make it virtually impossible for students to read them, he added. In particular, the transcriptions may not include technical signs, symbols and formulae that are critical to understanding math and science. And some DRCs do not offer Braille versions at all — only audio recordings.

"No college or university would expect sighted students to function without textbooks or other printed materials until late in each semester," Gibson said in his letter. "They certainly would not accept print textbooks with gross inaccuracies or errors that made them virtually unreadable. And what institution would expect its sighted students to take a mathematics or other technical course without a print textbook?"

Gibson said the state's colleges need to cooperate by adopting the same textbooks for the same courses and then pooling resources to prepare accurate Braille transcriptions.

He recommended that the task force looking into the issues include DRC representatives, blind students, members of the Division of Services for the Blind advisory council and a legislator.

E-mail: suzannedean@hotmail.com