DRA v. UC Berkeley: A Win-Win with Structured Negotiation
Updated: June 3, 2019
Between 2011 and 2013, three undergraduate students from the University of California (UC) Berkeley, took legal action over their school’s inaccessible textbooks and unrealistic accommodation timelines.
The students were represented by legal group Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), which chose to engage in a process called ‘structured negotiation’ (instead of traditional litigation) with UC Berkeley in which the plaintiff’s lawyers worked directly with the school to come up with a solution.
The case was ultimately settled. UC Berkeley agreed to pay for all legal fees and, to the joy of the more than 70 students with print disabilities there, made substantial changes to their library and print-to-digital conversion process.
DRA v. UC Berkeley: The Case
In 2011, Berkeley student David Jaulus was told by one of his professors that the class’s first assignment was to read a book that was not listed on the syllabus, and they had until the end of the week to read it.
Jaulus, who has cerebral palsy and a print disability known as cortical visual impairment, could not complete this assignment because the process to get a book converted to an audio format took several weeks at that point.
Another student, Tabitha Mancini, who has dyslexia and ADD, was not able to do research in UC Berkeley’s library because the school’s Disabled Students Program would not convert books to a digital format she could use unless they were on the class syllabus. The library had no digital conversion system in place to accommodate her either.
In both Jaulus and Mancini’s cases, the school violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires that universities provide full and equal access to educational materials.
Along with another dyslexic student, Brandon King, Jaulus and Mancini enlisted the help of DRA and, after a year of discussions with the university, both sides reached an agreement.
“We’re very pleased that the process gave us a chance to look at our level of services and how to improve them.”
The DRA v. UC Berkeley case resulted in a win-win for both parties involved.
Paul Hippolitus, the Director of the university’s Disabled Students Program, was happy that the case gave the university an opportunity to make lasting changes, saying, “We’re very pleased that the process gave us a chance to look at our level of services and how to improve them.” The mutual satisfaction was thanks in part to DRA’s decision to use structured negotiation rather than taking the university to court.
Structured negotiation is an alternative dispute resolution method developed by civil rights lawyers Lainey Feingold and Linda Dardarian. It was initially conceived and used to resolve technology and information access claims of the blind community.
The structured negotiation process at UC Berkeley involved soliciting feedback from the student disability community at the university using online surveys and in-person focus groups. An expert on the process was also brought in to consult both parties and advise on best practices.
The Outcome: Berkeley ‘a Better Place’
“It has always been a dream of mine to have full access to the campus library system so that I can do research, and I’m very happy this will now be a reality for all UC Berkeley Students.”
When the case was settled in 2013, UC Berkeley agreed to make a number of changes on their campus to make their library collection of 11 million volumes much more accessible to students with print disabilities. Wait times for converting books to alternative, more accessible formats were also substantially reduced from several weeks to just a few days.
The students were very pleased with the outcome. “It’s a great step forward. I think this will make Berkeley a better place,” said Jaulus. Mancini expressed her gratitude as well, stating, “It has always been a dream of mine to have full access to the campus library system so that I can do research, and I’m very happy this will now be a reality for all UC Berkeley Students.”
Per the mutual agreement, UC Berkeley agreed to make the following changes:
- UC Berkeley’s libraries will convert books upon request within five days.
- The Disabled Students Program will convert assigned materials recommended by professors in 10 business days, and other materials in 17.
- The Disabled Students Program will hire two more staffers to help.
- The library’s new print conversion system, the first of its kind in the nation, will enable students to request that a specific library book or journal be converted into an accessible digital format.
- If accessible materials are unavailable, a personal reader will be assigned.
UC Berkeley also agreed to pay $100,000 in lawyers’ fees, $93,000 for monitoring the implementation of new textbook accessibility standards over three years, and $120,000 for new staff and equipment.
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