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

Executive Summary


The Department of Education is the Cabinet-level department that establishes policy for, administers, and coordinates most Federal assistance to education. The Department has a budget of about $30 billion, and approximately 5,000 employees in fifteen Principal Offices, varying in size from 25 to 1,500 employees.

Section 504: Process of Department's Self-Evaluation1

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. 794, prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in federally assisted programs and activities. It was amended in 1978 to extend its coverage to programs and activities conducted by Federal Executive agencies. The Department of Education's regulations implementing Section 504 for its programs and activities define an individual with a disability as "any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment." (34 CFR §105.3) The regulations require the Department to evaluate its current policies and practices for compliance with Section 504 and to the extent modifications of any of these policies and practices are required, to proceed to make the required modifications. See 34 CFR Section 105.10 (Appendix A).

In October 1993, Secretary of Education Richard Riley created the Secretary's Work Group on the Recruitment, Advancement, and Access for People with Disabilities, referred to as the Disability Work Group. A Section 504 subcommittee was formed to conduct a current Section 504 Self-Evaluation study. The committee recommended that specific attention in the development of the survey instrument and protocol be directed to:

  1. focusing the self-evaluation process on programs, policies and practices;

  2. focusing the Facilities Survey on the identification of all physical barriers in facilities,

  3. requiring Principal Offices to develop accompanying implementation plans for the removal of any impediments that are identified; and

  4. defining strategies to assure that auxiliary aids and services, such as documents in alternative formats or interpreter services, are available, that reasonable accommodations are provided to employees, and that all programs and activities of the Department are made accessible to employees and members of the public.
On July 10, 1995, a survey form on accessibility and reasonable accommodations was distributed to Principal Offices. When all the Principal Offices had returned the self-evaluations, which are contained in Volume II of this Report, the Section 504 subcommittee analyzed the responses and compiled this Report.

Departmental Evaluation and Recommendations


Program Accessibility

Because the work of the Department is carried out at the Principal Office level, it was anticipated that a Section 504 self-evaluation conducted at the Principal Office level would provide the data required for the Department to assess how the individual Principal Offices are responding to the needs of persons with disabilities as well as the extent of the Department's overall accessibility to persons with disabilities. Each of the Principal Offices was asked to assess how it met the needs of persons with disabilities and to examine how accessible its programs and activities were to individuals with disabilities.

Because the Principal Offices have widely varying duties and responsibilities, their Section 504 self-evaluations predictably revealed the Principal Offices' varying degrees of interactions with individuals with disabilities and varying degrees of awareness of what the Department can do to make its programs and activities more accessible to persons with disabilities.

The Principal Offices had a general awareness that they were responsible for making their programs and activities accessible for individuals with disabilities. They understood their Section 504 responsibility to mean providing reasonable accommodations to employees when requested, having available auxiliary aids (primarily documents in alternative format for people with visual impairments and interpreters for people with hearing impairments), and making sure that no activities or programs excluded persons solely on the basis of their disabilities. It became evident, however, that few Principal Offices communicated their willingness to modify their programs or to provide documents in alternative formats to meet the needs of persons with disabilities. The evaluations also revealed that there was very little uniformity or consistency among Principal Offices and sometimes within a Principal Office regarding their response to requests for modifications of programs or requests for materials in alternative format.

Although Principal Offices indicated that they responded to requests from persons with disabilities for materials in alternative format, the data demonstrated that many tended to provide the materials in one format rather than others. For example, some Principal Offices tended to provide materials only in Braille and did not readily have the ability to provide it in any other format. The format preference of the requester may or may not have been solicited. There was no consistent practice. In addition, the Section 504 evaluations revealed that many were unaware that aids other than interpreters could be best suited for some people with hearing impairments. Eleven of the fifteen Principal Offices reported that they had at least one TTY2 in the Office, but the TTY number may not be regularly published nor did they have a sufficient number of people trained to use the TTY. When asked about emergency evacuation procedures for individuals with disabilities, most Principal Offices responded that they used the plan approved by the General Services Administration (GSA), but several Offices indicated that the evacuation of persons with hearing impairments or mobility impairments was an issue that had not been resolved satisfactorily.

Many Principal Offices did not realize that they had the capability within their own office for providing basic auxiliary aids, such as pen and paper for people with hearing impairments and computer diskette and large print fonts on computers, printers, and some copiers for people with visual impairments. Also, every person with a telephone is capable of sending or receiving a telephone call through the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) that provides accessible communications for people with hearing impairments. As with other aspects relating to accessibility issues, such data illustrates a need for training on the different and individual needs of people with disabilities, the responsibility of the Principal Offices to meet those needs to the extent required by law, and the technology and resources available to ensure people with disabilities access to the Department's programs.

The Principal Office self-evaluations revealed that there is a need for and many Principal Offices specifically requested a centralized source of Departmental assistance in ensuring the accessibility of the Department's programs by disseminating information, providing technical assistance, exploring available resources and technology, and providing both a centralized aspect to appropriate issues and a more uniform approach to responsibilities that are met at the Principal Office level.

Physical Accessibility

The regulations implementing Section 504 at 34 CFR §105.32 require that the Department's existing facilities permit the Department to operate its programs and activities so that, viewed in their entirety, the programs and activities are readily accessible to and useable by individuals with disabilities. The Department's facilities were surveyed for physical accessibility according to the relevant standard: Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) for federally owned buildings and the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) for those buildings privately owned.

The survey reveals the structural or other changes, ranked by priority, that would be necessary in order to bring the Department into full compliance with UFAS/ADAAG standards. Executive Summaries of each building surveyed are contained in Chapter IV and the entire report of the architectural survey firm can be found in Volume III. Section 504 regulations do not require, however, that existing facilities be fully accessible according to the appropriate UFAS or ADAAG standard; rather, the Department's facilities must permit it to operate its programs and activities so that the program or activity, viewed in its entirety, is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. See 34 CFR §105.32.

It should be noted that since the survey was only of existing facilities currently occupied by the Department, the Department's previous and future headquarters at 400 Maryland Avenue, S.W. (currently under renovation) was not included. Any alterations to existing buildings or new construction must comply with UFAS/ADAAG standards, 34 CFR §105.33, so that the building constructed or altered is fully accessible. Issues regarding the accessibility of the renovated building are being dealt with separately by the Department in conjunction with the General Services Administration (GSA). Also, three buildings included in the survey (Federal Office Building 10B, Capitol Place, and much of Portals) are scheduled to be vacated by the Department when the headquarters renovation is completed (approximately July, 1997), raising issues of who would be responsible for any recommended changes and when those changes would be undertaken.


The following recommendations are meant to ensure the Department's compliance with Section 504. Many of them, however, go beyond minimal compliance in striving to make all of the Department's programs and activities fully accessible to people with disabilities. In light of the Department's unique mission to promote equal access to education, the Department should serve as a model by increasing its capacity to meet the needs of people with disabilities, both employees and members of the public, in a consistent and proactive manner that makes it easier for persons with disabilities to participate in and benefit from Department programs and activities.

The following recommendations are based on the findings made during the Section 504 self-evaluation process and are intended to increase the accessibility of the Department within the shortest possible time. All Principal Offices were asked to include recommendations for improving accessibility of their programs to persons with disabilities. Most Principal Offices submitted recommendations, many of which, if adopted, would benefit other Principal Offices as well. Therefore, the following recommendations are a composite of the recommendations submitted by the Principal Offices and recommendations offered by the Section 504 subcommittee after a review and analysis of all the protocols submitted by the Principal Offices.

A Glossary of Terms that includes auxiliary aids and services referenced in this report is located in Appendix E of this Volume.

    Technical Assistance

  1. The Department should establish a Section 504 Coordinator position to provide technical assistance, resource management, and allocation of central resources to the Principal Offices in order to make the Department's programs accessible to individuals with disabilities.

    In consultation with appropriate Principal Office staff, including persons with various disabilities, the Coordinator should identify resource needs within individual Principal Offices, identify appropriate technologies, determine the most cost-effective and appropriate solutions, prioritize needs pursuant to accessibility objectives, and secure equipment, materials and contracts for allocation to or use by the individual Principal Offices. The Coordinator would assist the Principal Offices in improving their understanding of, outreach to, and contacts with the constituency of the Department that are people with disabilities and the service providers and education facilities that deal with people with disabilities .

    The Coordinator should work with the General Services Administration and the Department's designated Official to ensure that, pursuant to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Department comply with existing guidelines governing the Department's electronic and information technology so that individuals with disabilities can produce information and data, and have access to information and data, comparable to that used by individuals without disabilities.

    The Coordinator, in consultation with the Disability Work Group and the appropriate knowledgeable individuals, should examine the issues raised by the substantive public comments discussed in Appendix F, and determine the appropriate Departmental response in order to ensure the accessibility of the Department's programs and activities to all individuals, regardless of particular disability.

    In order to devise ways to better serve the Department's constituency, the Coordinator should collect data on requests received by each Principal Office, whether the person requesting was an employee or a member of the general public, and what type of accommodations or alternative formats were requested and provided. The Coordinator should also maintain regular contact with the disability community in order to assess the changing needs of the community and to stay abreast of emerging technologies. The Coordinator will use the information to modify and improve the Department's strategies to make all programs accessible to individuals with disabilities.

    The Coordinator should report to the Secretary on a yearly basis and to the Senior Officers on a periodic basis during the course of the year, concerning the progress made in achieving Department accessibility implementation goals.

  2. The Department should designate a line item fund for use by the Coordinator to purchase and allocate equipment, materials or services for use by individual Principal Offices.

  3. The Disability Work Group should continue to assist the Section 504 Coordinator in implementing the recommendations.

    Policy, Education, and Training

  4. The Department should develop strategies to implement the two policies issued by the Secretary requiring the Department to make its materials available in alternative formats and to ensure meeting accessibility (Attached at Appendices C & D).

  5. The Department should develop a uniform policy that defines procedures to be used by a Principal Office and an employee with a disability when that employee requests an accommodation.

  6. Principal Offices should ensure that when a person with a disability requests a particular auxiliary aid or service or a particular accommodation, the Office gives primary consideration to providing the particular aid or services requested. If meeting the request would result in undue administrative or financial burdens, the Principal Office is responsible for working with the requestor to find alternative means of making the information or meeting accessible. The Principal Office may not place the burden of making the program accessible on the person with a disability.

  7. A Department policy should be drafted and implemented requiring that all future equipment purchases be compatible with accessible auxiliary aids and/or services. (These aids/services do not need to be part of the machine at purchase, but it must be possible and easy to install them, should the need arise.)

  8. Principal Offices with staff in the Regional Offices should ensure that the Regions are included in the implementation of the recommendations adopted in this report and that accessibility issues that may be particular to that Office are addressed.

  9. Each Principal Office should ensure that the statement, "This material is available in alternative formats upon request," is included in all Department publications, Federal Register materials, application packages, notices, contracts, and other similar documents.

  10. Each Principal Office should ensure that all Department announcements about public hearings and any other meeting conducted by the Department should contain information about physical, communications, and format accessibility, and should solicit information from persons with disabilities as to whether they require a particular accommodation or auxiliary aid in order to participate in the meeting. The Department may require that persons with disabilities request in advance the accommodations they need. However, if advance notification is not possible, the Department still should make arrangements on the date of the meeting so that the person with a disability may participate by, for example, having an interpreter on call or having a set of materials prepared in Braille or on audio cassette.

  11. If the Department plans to preserve a record of a public meeting in some form, it should ensure that people with disabilities have access to that record as well, by, for example, recording the meeting on video or audio cassette.

  12. A handbook should be developed for Department personnel on the availability of resources for persons with disabilities.

  13. The Department should create an inventory of resources in the Principal Offices, including specialized equipment, and publish a list of offices which have hardware/software for converting material to Braille, contracts for interpreters and readers, and other equipment or resources which can be shared to support the Department's overall goals.

  14. All TDD/TTY numbers in the Department should be designated and published with all other Principal Office phone numbers in print, on the EDLAN and in the National Directory of TTY numbers.

  15. A Department-wide training program should be developed and implemented on Section 504 goals, responsibilities and related issues. Section 504-related training should be mandatory for all appropriate Department personnel and would include:

  • A section should be added to Departmental training forms so staff with disabilities can indicate what accommodations they need to participate in the training. A training program may require that persons with disabilities request in advance the accommodations they need. However, if advance notification is not possible, the training program still should make arrangements, if possible, on the date of the training so that the person with a disability may participate.

  • When Principal Offices are conducting their own internal training, they should poll their staff with disabilities to determine whether they need auxiliary aids/services or other accommodations in order to participate in the training and should inform the person providing the training of any needs of Office staff with disabilities.

  • The Department should ensure that all of its contractors, who perform functions on behalf of the Department, are informed of their obligation to make the programs and activities accessible to individuals with disabilities. Language regarding Section 504 responsibilities should be included in all written contracts and Principal Offices should monitor the contractor, to the extent possible, to ensure that the contractor is complying with Section 504.

  • The Department should request grantees and should require contractors to produce products in forms capable of being reproduced in alternative formats, such as computer diskette or Braille.

  • Some Principal Offices, such as the Office of Intergovernmental and Interagency Affairs, the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, and the Office of Public Affairs in the Office of the Secretary have substantial interaction with the public, produce materials for wide general distribution, and hold frequent public meetings. These Offices should take special precautions to ensure (1) that their staff is trained in how to respond to persons who request program modifications or documents in alternative format; (2) that videos are produced in captioned form or with audio description where appropriate; (3) that materials printed regularly and for general distribution are produced simultaneously in common alternative formats, such as audio cassette or Braille; and (4) that display exhibits are accessible to persons with visual disabilities through the use of audio tapes, verbal description, enlarged print, Braille, or computer diskette.

  • Staff in Principal Offices that have outreach programs to various constituencies, such as the Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Language Affairs with its bilingual programs, should ensure that these programs include persons with disabilities within the particular targeted constituencies and provide information to this population regarding the availability of aids and services. Staff in these programs should also have training on communicating with people with disabilities.

  • All current emergency evacuation plans should be reviewed and modified if necessary to ensure that the needs of persons with all types of disabilities are properly considered within the plan. For Department offices that share facilities with other public or private entities, as is common in the Regional Offices, the Department should work with these other entities to ensure that an appropriate emergency evacuation plan is adopted.

    Auxiliary Aids & Services

  • Although the 504 Coordinator in the Office of Management is intended to be the central resource, if necessary, for converting documents into certain alternative formats, the Department should also examine the feasibility of developing the in-house capability of certain Principal Offices to produce their own documents in various alternative formats, especially in Principal Offices that receive numerous requests for documents in alternative formats, such as the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services and the Office of Civil Rights.

  • Contracts should be awarded for the high-volume production of Brailling, audio taping and video captioning.

    People With Visual Impairments:

  • When purchasing computer software, the Department should ensure that such software is readily useable or can be adapted to be used by persons with visual impairments. For example, software that uses the computer languages ASCII or Standard General Markup Language produces documents that can be easily converted to Braille. By contrast, some software used in Windows is not easily decipherable by computers with speech output.

  • All official Department-wide memos issued to all employees should be simultaneously distributed on EDLAN, the Department's computer network.

  • A library of Braille, audio cassette or computer diskette versions of significant documents, including policy documents and Department regulations, should be maintained for use by Department employees in the National Library of Education and/or the Public Reading Room.

  • The Department should ensure that access is available to an on-line subscription to the Federal Register in order to allow for downloading and conversion to a format accessible to people with visual impairments.

  • The Department should continue to use its home page and World Wide Web Internet sites, as well as other electronic media, for announcements and publications intended for public distribution.

  • The Department should obtain additional laptop computers dedicated to use by peer reviewers with visual impairments who are asked by the Department to participate in grant competitions. The computers should be equipped with software which offers large print screen viewing and/or have speech output capabilities.

  • All applicants for and recipients of new or continuing discretionary grants that have prepared their grant applications and renewal summaries using a computer should be requested to submit these documents on computer diskette in ASCII format, if at all possible.

    People With Hearing Impairments:

  • When a Principal Office seeks to make a program or activity accessible to a person with a hearing impairment, the Office should inquire as to what particular auxiliary aid or service the person prefers for communication access. A variety of auxiliary aids and services are available such as sign language, oral , or cued speech interpreters, Computer Aided Real Time Transcription (CART), Computer Assisted Note taking (CAN), or assistive listening devices/systems. Depending on a number of relevant factors, any one or a combination of these options may be needed.

  • The need for upgraded auxiliary aids for people with hearing impairments, such as assistive listening devices, closed captioned televisions, TTYs, or TTY capable computers should be determined.

  • All Principal Offices that do not currently have a TTY in the Office should evaluate the need for one or more TTYs, in particular, offices that deal frequently with the public, such as the Office of the Secretary and Deputy Secretary (OS/ODS).

  • If a Principal Office does have a TTY, it should ensure that the TTY number is printed on all materials where the standard telephone number is given, such as documents published in the Federal Register and other communications with the public, including telephone directories. The Office should also ensure that sufficient numbers of people are trained in its use.

  • Principal Offices with "Hotlines" intended for wide use either by the public or by Department employees, such as the News Release line in OS/ODS and the Hotline in the Office of Inspector General, should, if feasible, obtain a TTY for that Hotline and publish the TTY or the FIRS number along with the regular standard telephone number.

  • The Department should investigate the feasibility of installing a TTY at the main headquarters building guard station.

  • All telephones purchased by the Department should be compatible with hearing aids.

  • A system should be implemented which would insure comparable access for people with hearing impairments to telephone messages, including exploring the possibility of voice mail systems which are TTY accessible.

  • Permanent assistive listening device systems should be installed in major permanent Departmental meeting facilities, and appropriate signage should be posted to alert facility users that such equipment is available.

  • At least one portable assistive listening device/system designed for people with hearing impairments to use in conjunction with their personal hearing aids or assistive listening devices should be purchased for use in each Department building.

  • New videos produced by the Department should be produced in an open captioned or closed captioned version, depending on the intended audience and medium of distribution. Videos used by the Department should be captioned if not obtained in that form.

    People With Mobility Impairments:

  • Each Principal Office should ensure that if it provides transportation in connection with any of its programs or activities, it provides for the transportation of employees or customers with mobility impairments, including, but not limited to, individuals whose impairment necessitates the use of a wheelchair.

    Physical Accessibility

  • The Section 504 subcommittee of the Disability Work Group recommends that the Department establish a team to evaluate the results of the architectural survey, the summaries of which are found in Chapter IV. The team should be formed from the Secretary's Disability Work Group and should be comprised of members who have experience in budget and cost issues and workplace and building management, and should include members with disabilities.

    The team would be responsible for assessing the results of the architectural survey in order to ensure that the physical barriers to full access identified by the survey do not prevent the programs and activities of the Department from being accessible to and useable by individuals with disabilities. If the team determines that the Department should increase the accessibility of the Department, it should evaluate whether any methods other than structural changes could achieve the desired access. If the team considers that structural changes are warranted, it should work to develop a transition plan for implementing the changes. Because the Department's landlord, the General Services Administration (GSA), has control over common areas, such as entryways, lobbies, corridors, cafeterias, garages, elevators and bathrooms, any alterations to those spaces must be addressed by GSA. Therefore, the team should work with GSA if any structural changes are recommended.

    1 The Department's Section 504 Self-Evaluation Report is available in alternative formats upon request. To make such a request, please contact the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Eduation, Switzer Building, 330 C Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20202-2641. Telephone: (202)205-5465. Individuals who use a TTY/TDD may call the TDD number: (202) 205-5465.

    2 A Tele-Typewriter (TTY) is a particular brand or type of Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD). It is the most popular TDD and is used as the preferred term in referring to this type of telecommunication device used by people with hearing impairments. For more information, see the Glossary of Terms at Appendix E.

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