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

Office of Postsecondary Education

Overview

The Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) directs, coordinates, and recommends policies for programs designed to 1) provide financial assistance to eligible students enrolled in post secondary educational institutions; 2) improve post secondary educational facilities and programs through the provision of financial support to eligible institutions; 3) recruit and prepare disadvantaged students for the successful completion of postsecondary educational programs; and 4) promote the domestic study of foreign languages and international affairs and support international educational research and exchange activities.

OPE's staff is located in Regional Office Building 3 and in the Portals Building in Washington, D.C., and in all Regional Offices.

OPE Evaluation: Program Accessibility

Most staff in OPE are aware that it may be necessary to modify program policies or practices or provide auxiliary aids or services in order to enable people with disabilities to participate. OPE recognizes, however, that this is accomplished in a more reactive rather than proactive way. While OPE is planning to make disability awareness an integral part of OPE policy, budgetary limits have delayed action; however, several offices within OPE are taking action on their own initiative. OPE generally responds to requests for auxiliary aids or services on an as needed basis but has no established procedure for notifying the public of the availability of auxiliary aids and services. Often the institution or organization that is participating in the postsecondary education program will assume the responsibility of providing information to persons with disabilities. OPE has three or four TTYs available and some people trained to use them. The office of Student Financial Assistance stated that they have a TTY that has trained staff available to use it throughout the business day.

OPE is seeking ways to be more proactive in ensuring that OPE-sponsored events are accessible. It plans to be more consistent in polling participants in advance to determine the needs of people with disabilities and planning for fulfilling those needs through Department resources, local contract services, or through the educational body hosting the event. OPE plans to produce its published documents in various alternative formats. This will be done when documents are initially planned for printing. OPE will take steps to inform its offices that they must include these costs in all printing budget or procurement requests.

OPE reported that there are circumstances in which the participation of a person with a disability in the program could be restricted or excluded. Programs that require travel, that may occasionally be extensive, to regional locations, contractor sites and institutions across the country may limit the participation of persons with disabilities. Additionally, there are a heavy concentration of computer specialist and analyst positions within OPE that require extensive viewing of computer screens and lengthy telephone communications. This may pose difficulties for individuals with visual or hearing impairments. One program, the Center for International Education requires travel abroad and has health status requirements to qualify for participation.

In addition to educational institutions which are bound by Section 504 as recipients of Federal funding, OPE deals often with contractors throughout its core of operations. The contractors maintain and run OPE's student loans and grants computer systems. The contracts themselves require compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and many of the contractors and facilities utilized by OPE are sensitive to the needs of the disabled and do accommodate those needs. The staff at OPE would enforce this portion of a contract if required, but no instance of this has been identified.

Existing Auxiliary Aids and Services

Specific OPE Services

Braille
Available within the Principal Office

Audio Tape
Available within the Principal Office

Readers
Available within the Principal Office

Verbal Description
Available within the Principal Office

Pictorial Signage
Available within the Principal Office

TTYs
Available within the Principal Office

Commonly Available Services

All Principal Offices have available the following auxiliary aids and services: Large Print, Sign Language, Interpreters, Paper and Pen, and the Federal Information Relay System (FIRS). This Principal Office recognized its ability to provide the following:
Sign Language Interpreters
Available from the Department

Computer Diskette
Available within the Principal Office

Large Print
Available within the Principal Office

Paper and Pen
Available within the Principal Office

Federal Information Relay System (FIRS)
Available from the Department

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