MAYS LANDING - Atlantic Cape Community College will spend up to $500,000 to meet the terms of a legal agreement with two students and the National Federation of the Blind to improve access for students with visual impairments.
The college board of trustees on Tuesday approved the transfer of funds into a special account. The trustees also approved a contract for up to $274,000 with Interactive Accessibility, Inc in Massachusetts to do an Electronic and Information Technology audit, specialized training, quarterly reporting and additional services required under the agreement.
The Consent Decree, which was approved in July, came after students, Anthony Lanzilotti and Mitchell Cossaboon filed a complaint in U.S. District Court claiming discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA.
Lanzilotti, 38, of Brigantine, had staged a protest at the college in April 2014 claiming he was prohibited from using campus labs because of alleged fire code issues and that the college refused to provide or create accessible copies of his books and course materials. He wanted books to be scanned and converted to electronic files for text-to-speech software.
Lanzilotti said by phone Friday that access has already improved at the college. He will graduate in May with a degree in criminal justice, but said the work being done will assure that all students get the services they need to succeed.
Lanzilotti failed several courses in 2013 and 2014 because, he said, he could not get appropriate access to materials. He said the science lab now has a talking meter and he was able to use tactile graphing materials in statistics classes. The Consent Decree reimbursed him $3,600 for those courses, and he said he has since retaken them and received As.
“Before I did not have equal access,” he said. “It made it impossible for me to complete the course work.”
The agreement also required that the college pay the students’ legal fees of $128,620, which college officials said was covered by insurance and the college’s legal services fund.
The college did not admit to any discrimination in the agreement, and said it acted in compliance with the ADA. Both sides agreed to the settlement to avoid additional litigation. Lanzilotti said his goal was always to improve access for students with disabilities. He said raising the awareness of staff and providing the assistive technology were both important.
“I realize this is going to cost money, but it is the right thing to do,” he said. He plans to transfer to a four-year college and then attend law school or get a master’s degree.
In 2012 Lanzilotti was nominated by the college’s Office of Disability Support Services for the Atlantic County Donald J. Sykes Award which recognizes residents with disabilities for their community involvement. He was one of five recipients of the award that year.
Among the conditions of the agreement are:
_ Conducting a technology audit and developing a plan to make electronic and information technology accessible to students with disabilities within three years.
_ Making ACCC’s websites and library system accessible to blind students and developing a plan to provide accessible instructional materials to students with disabilities.
_ Requiring training of all personnel on the Americans with Disabilities Act and on college policies for accommodating students with disabilities, as well as training for students on the rights and the procedures available to them. The first staff training was held in September.