A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n Report on the Section 504 Self-Evaluation - May 1996

Appendix D:
Policy Statement on Making Materials and Information Available and Accessible to Individuals with Disabilities

U.S. Department of Education

Policy Statement on Making Materials and Information Available and Accessible to Individuals with Disabilities


This policy is being established to clarify the obligations of the Department of Education under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, to make its materials accessible and available to its disabled customers. It will also set forth possible strategies to assist in implementing this policy. The Department hopes that this information will aid staff at all levels in the planning for and production of materials in alternative formats for its customers with sensory impairments, whenever necessary. This document is intended to cover anyone who might benefit from the activities of the Department, whether as an employee, or as an individual communicating with the Department, participating in Department activities, or benefiting in some other way from the Department's activities.


Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, and its implementing regulations at 34 CFR Part 105, prohibit Federal agencies from denying persons with disabilities access to or the benefits of programs and activities, on the basis of their disability. Under these regulations, the Department is to provide material to disabled persons in an accessible format if the material would ordinarily be made available to other individuals in printed or audiovisual forms, unless the Department can demonstrate that doing so would constitute a fundamental alteration in the agency's program, or would require the agency to undertake undue financial and administrative burdens. 34 C.F.R. Sections 105.20 and 105.40.

Policy Statement

The U.S. Department of Education's stated mission is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation. Accordingly, the Department will make all of its printed and audiovisual materials available to individuals with disabilities in a format that will enable them to have equal access to the information. These individuals include, but are not limited to, employees, applicants, program participants, personnel of other Federal entities, and members of the public who have disabilities.

Public Information. All documents issued by the Department will be available in alternative formats, unless this process would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of a program or activity or in undue financial and administrative burdens. Subject to these limitations, the Department will provide these materials in the format most useable to the requestor, which can include braille, audiocassette, large-print, through reader assistance, or by electronic file on computer disk. The Department will take steps to ensure that, if possible, there is no lag time between the issuance of the standard printed version of a document and its accessible version. The choice of format will vary with the material in question, and will be decided upon by the office assigned to implement this policy at the time publications are planned for release.

All materials published by the Department will prominently display a notice that the material is available in an alternative format, which may include braille, large-print, through reader assistance, and by electronic file on computer disk. In addition, the Department shall take steps to provide information to the general public about the availability of documents in accessible formats, and to provide such information at display booths and on publication request forms.

The Office of Management's Information Resources Group (IRG) will take steps to ensure that all Department telephone numbers which are advertised for requesting materials or information or for providing comments are TDD/TTY (telecommunications device for the deaf)-accessible.

Audio-Visual Presentations. All films and videos produced by the Department will be opened-captioned. In addition to opened captioning, closed captioning will be possible in certain circumstances. An interpreter will be present when needed at the showing to ED staff or at Department-sponsored presentations of any film or video which is not captioned.


In seeking to implement this policy, the Department must adopt strategies that will ensure continued compliance through the effective allocation of staff, funds, and other resources that may need to be available for this purpose.

The following are possible strategies that will help to ensure that the Department of Education's information will be available to individuals with disabilities in accessible formats. These strategies are in no way all-inclusive, but they will help to establish the resources that would be available to produce materials in accordance with the above policy. In addition, these strategies will help ensure that there is an administrative structure available through which funds can be allocated to meet accessibility needs, and also to ensure that no undue burden is created for any one entity. This concept of undue burden is not only common sense, but also satisfies the legal standard.

  1. The Department's Disability Work Group will designate in the Office of Management (OM) a person with responsibility to oversee the Department's implementation of this and other disability-related policies. This individual will work with the Office of Public Affairs and the Grants and Contracts Service to establish a smooth mechanism for the production and distribution of materials in alternative formats. This individual will be available to the various ED Principal Offices to provide technical assistance on accessibility and related issues, as necessary. Each individual office in Headquarters and each Regional Office has the responsibility to provide OM with a copy of the public document sufficiently in advance of distribution to allow preparation in accessible formats. These timelines will be determined by the Department by internal deadlines if the alternative format is produced internally or by production timelines contractually specified between the Department and producers of alternative-format documents. Thus, if it takes a braille-production facility ten days to produce braille versions of a document for distribution, the originating office must supply the contractor with that document at least ten days before distribution is to commence.

  2. Principal Offices will be responsible for the cost of producing accessible materials for distribution to individuals with disabilities from budgets used for producing the materials for general distribution. for materials of national significance and/or wide distribution, including those affecting several programs or offices, the Department will provide a central budget allocation within the Department's S&E budget.

  3. ED will develop Department-wide Task Order contracts through the Government Printing Office (GPO) for the brailling, recording, and captioning of Departmental materials.

  4. For meeting the accessibility needs of in-house employees with disabilities, the Department will develop a mechanism for the prompt evaluation of individual equipment needs and the timely provision of this equipment and materials for in-house personnel with disabilities. This evaluation/acquisition process will be coordinated by the Technology Resources Team in IRG in ED's Office of Management.

  5. Under the direction of the alternative-formats specialist, the IRG will make available to each component a LAN-based braille embosser, which will produce brief runs of short materials such as agendas, telephone lists, memoranda, brochures/information packets, etc. Staff assigned to oversee the implementation of this policy will procure or provide training for program staff in each component in the use of this equipment. Documents producible by such facilities would be of relatively small size (between 1 and 50 print pages) and in small volume (1 to 20 copies). The production of lengthy documents, and/or documents requiring volume production, and the recording and captioning of materials, would of necessity need to be produced outside the Department via contract with a professional facility.

  6. The Department will issue guidance to its Principal Offices instructing them to plan for the promulgation of information in accessible formats as required. The document, Making Government Documents and Audio-visual Presentations Available in Accessible Formats produced by the Department of Justice's Interagency Coordinating Council (ICC) and the Department of Justice's Technical Assistance Guide for Making Government Documents Available to Persons with Vision Impairments would be useful for this purpose. Another excellent hands-on guide to access technologies is the Media Access Toolkit developed by the CPB-WGBH National Center for Accessible Media. The Toolkit contains comprehensive information about captioning, video-description, and audio translations.

  7. The Department will evaluate the need to reproduce in alternative formats Department documents issued prior to this policy.

Appendix: Notes on Common Formats

Other Considerations

If an agency has a large amount of printed material, such as a library, that is likely to be subject to frequent access requests, but is not easily converted to tape or braille, the use of staff assistance or the purchase of mechanical readers may be the most effective way to ensure that the library's material is readily accessible.

The most cost-efficient way of producing material in accessible formats is at the initial development stage. Thus, the Department should consider establishing procedures under which all material produced for mass-distribution is processed for simultaneous preparation in an appropriate accessible format.

For disabled employees, steps should be taken to ensure that the information needs of each individual employee are evaluated and that a wide variety and range of options is available to meet these needs. Employee accommodations can include computer text readers, brailled materials, audio recordings, magnification devices, large-print materials, opened-captioned audio-visual materials, closed-caption decoders, audio-described films and videos, amplified telephones, TDDs/TTYs, and assistive listening systems. The Department also may assign agency personnel or contract employees to provide assistance as readers for persons with vision impairments, and interpreters for persons with hearing impairments.

[Appendix C: Policy Statement on Meeting Accessibility for Individuals with Disabilities] [Table of Contents] [Appendix E: Glossary of Terms]