The Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education (TEACH) Act

About | Supporting Organizations | Why do we need the TEACH Act? | Press/Blogs | What you can do?Contact

About 

The TEACH Act:

1) Authorizes a purpose-based commission to develop accessibility guidelines for electronic instructional materials and related information technology so that those materials are accessible to students with print disabilities.

2) Provides an incentive for schools to follow the guidelines by offering a safe harbor from litigation.  Any school that only uses technology that conforms to the guidelines will be in compliance with current law. 

3) Restates that schools are still obligated to meet the equal access mandate under current law. Guidelines are one voluntary path to compliance with the law, but schools are permitted to pursue other paths to compliance (although those paths do not come with the legal protections of a safe harbor). This offers flexibility and leaves room for innovation without compromising print disabled students’ right to equal access. 

Not to be confused with the Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act of 2002, The TEACH Act addresses the problem of inaccessible instructional materials in post-secondary education.  Technology holds the promise of equal access for students with disabilities, but the overwhelming majority of university websites, digital books, PDFs, learning management systems, lab software and online research journals are inaccessible to students with print disabilities.  Federal law mandates equal access, but schools do not know what accessibility looks like or what to demand from manufacturers and developers.  Educational technology can easily be made accessible, but manufacturers and developers will never embrace these solutions unless there is widespread demand.  The TEACH Act guidelines will help schools identify accessibility and know what to demand from vendors.  This will stimulate the creation of a viable digital marketplace, facilitate compliance with federal law, and make it easier for blind students to access critical course material. 

Organizations that endorsed the TEACH Act last Congress

The TEACH Act is a collaboration of the NFB and the Association of American Publishers (AAP), the leading trade association for the U.S. publishing industry. 

Why do we need the TEACH Act?

Equal access mandates lack clarity

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability and require equal access in the classroom for students with disabilities.  Section 504 applies to schools that receive federal financial assistance; Title II covers state funded schools such as universities, community colleges and vocational schools; Title III covers private colleges and vocational schools.  However, these laws were written before technology transformed the education space.  To be clear, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice issued guidance to all institutions of higher education explaining their legal obligation to use accessible technology. The only thing missing is guidelines, or technical criteria, to give direction for schools and guidance to the market.

Data calling for guidelines 

In 2008, Congress authorized the Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities (AIM Commission) to study the status of accessible instructional materials and the impact that status has on students with disabilities.  The AIM Commission found that students with disabilities experience a daunting assortment of challenges, including blocked access to educational opportunities and even failure to graduate, solely because of inaccessible materials. They also found that “there is still persistent unmet need” in the area of AIM and the creation of a viable accessible digital marketplace.  Of the Commission’s 19 recommendations, the first one (found on page 42) calls for Congress to authorize the Access Board to create accessibility guidelines – the exact steps taken by the TEACH Act.

Without guidelines, schools face legal action and enforcement

Few schools have the expertise or resources to fathom what accessibility truly means and what they should request from publishers and vendors. Even those that do honor the law are isolated players in a vast ecosystem of developers and manufacturers of educational technology.  Until guidelines are introduced to stimulate a viable digital marketplace and give schools a path to compliance with the law, litigation is the only mechanism available for blind students, and enforcement by federal agencies will persist.  Click on any of the links below to learn more about recent AIM-related legal action and enforcement:

Personal stories from blind students

Press/Blogs

What you can do…  

If you work for a Member of Congress…

Contact Lee Brooks in Congressman Tom Petri’s office, Louis Katz in Senator Elizabeth Warren’s office or Katie Neal in Senator Orrin Hatch’s office to cosponsor the bill.

If you are a student…

Sign the Change.org petition!

Get additional resources from the National Association of Blind Students at http://nabslink.org/

Help NFB collect accurate data by completing this survey every semester. For additional information, contact Valerie Yingling, paralegal at the NFB, (410) 659-9314 extension 2440.

Tell your story! The National Association of Blind Students is collecting anecdotes about experiences with inaccessibility in college.  We can use these letters to show Members of Congress how the TEACH Act guidelines will directly impact people in their district. Please send your paragraph-long story and congressional district to Cindy Bennett

If you are a developer…

Make accessible materials by utilizing these resources:

​Take initiative like these groups:

If you work for an institution of higher education…

Improve your accessibility policy and commit to full compliance with the law.  Investing in equal, mainstream access allows you to: 

1) Serve the needs of your blind and print disabled students. 

2) Avoid litigation.

3) Reduce costs of ad-hoc, labor-intensive accommodations and specialized services. 

4) Have leverage and influence over the TEACH Act guidelines when they are being developed.

Here are some examples of institutions of higher education showing leadership in the field of accessibility. 

Contact

For more information: Lauren McLarney, Manager of Government Affairs, National Federation of the Blind, (410) 659-9314 extension 2207.