The Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education (TEACH) Act
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.
- Language for the 114th Congress is pending
- NFB Fact Sheet (Web, Word, PDF, Audio)
- FAQ for NFB Members
- From the 113th Congress: H.R. 3505 Language and Cosponsor List
- From the 113th Congress: S. 2060 Language and Cosponsor List
- American Association of People with Disabilities
- American Council of the Blind
- American Foundation for the Blind
- Association for Education and Rehabilitation
- Association of American Publishers
- Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs
- Association of University Centers on Disabilities
- Association on Higher Education and Disability
- CAST Universal Design for Learning
- DAISY Consortium
- Hearing Loss Association of America
- Home School Legal Defense Association
- National Association of the Deaf
- National Center for Learning Disabilities
- National Center on Disability and Access to Education
- National Council of State Agencies for the Blind
- National Council on Independent Living
- National Council on Rehabilitation Education
- National Court Reporters Association
- National Federation of the Blind
- Perkins School for the Blind
- Prince George’s County (Maryland) Human Relations Commission
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.
- AAP’s press release on the introduction of the TEACH Act in the 113th Congress
- AAP’s section-by-section analysis of the 113th Congress's version of the TEACH Act
- For more information about AAP’s support of the TEACH Act, please contact Allan Adler, General Counsel and Vice President for Government Affairs, or Rachel Fertig, Counsel for Copyright & International Trade Policy.
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.
- 2010 Joint Dear Colleague Letter
- 2011 Follow-up FAQ
- NFB President Mark Riccobono’s 2012 testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor and Pensions during a hearing on “The Promise of Accessible Technology: Challenges and Opportunities”
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.
- Click here to view the 2011 report.
- Statistics on students with disabilities who may require AIM.
- Association of Research Libraries' report of the ARL joint task force on services to patrons with print disabilities
- 2009 GAO Report: Higher Education and Disability Education Needs a Coordinated Approach to Improve Its Assistance to Schools in Supporting Students
- According to an October 2014 Inside Higher Ed article, “IT support…ranks as the third most important priority...Yet respondents also identified pockets of students who are not receiving sufficient support. Only 49 percent of institutions said they have a strategic plan to make their resources accessible to students with disabilities, and 81.1 percent of respondents rated IT support for those students less than excellent. That data comes at a time when advocacy groups for students with disabilities are fighting for new guidelines that would require institutions to make their digital resources accessible.”
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:
- Youngstown State University
- University of Montana Settlement Agreement
- Miami University student files complaint
- Louisiana Tech University settlement agreement with the Department of Justice
- Virtual Community School of Ohio enters resolution with Department of Education
- South Carolina Technical College System’s resolution letter from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights
- University of California, Berkeley enters into settlement with Disability Rights Advocates
- Alliance for Disability and Students at the University of Montana files a complaint with the Department of Education
- Mesa Community College and Maricopa Community College District faces lawsuit
- Pennsylvania State University’s settlement agreement with NFB
- Amicus brief filed by AHEAD in HathiTrust case, giving a comprehensive legal argument for equal access to digital material for blind and print disabled students.
- FSU Settlement Agreement
- History of curricular accessibility since 1992 as prepared by AHEAD
Personal stories from blind students
- Anecdotes by state from blind college students (collected by the National Association of Blind Students)
- Change.org petition
- NFB YouTube video: A Lesson on the TEACH Act
- NFB press release: National Federation of the Blind and Maricopa Community College District Resolve Litigation
- Blog post: Should TEACH Act language appear in the Higher Education Act? NCDAE and WebAIM weigh in
- Blog post: Technology must accommodate disabilities
- Inside Higher Ed: Stable Priorities, Unstable Times
- USA Today: Bills in Congress could mean equal digital access for disabled students
- Chronicle of Higher Education: For Bill on Disabled Access to Online Teaching Materials, the Devil's in the Details
- Inside Higher Ed: Fight Over Digital Accessibility
- Diverse Education: Disability Issues Continue to Arise on Campus
- Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed: A New Obstacle for Students With Disabilities by Kyle Shachmut
- Boston Globe op-ed: On education technology, college lobbyists are keeping disabled students behind by Kyle Shachmut
- Montana Kaiman: The Invisible: Not All UM Students Have Equal Access to Education
- Blog post: Unachievable or Unwanted: Why Is ACE Opposed to Accessibility Guidelines?
- Salt Lake Tribune op-ed: Hatch leads on access for disabled, but other Utahns fall short by Sachin Pavithran
- NFB press release: The National Federation of the Blind Applauds Groundbreaking Agreement on Equal Access in Higher Education
- Blog post: The TEACH Act: An evolution of Accessibility Criteria in Postsecondary Education
- YouTube video: Senator Warren announcing the introduction of the TEACH Act
- NFB press release: The National Federation of the Blind Applauds Senate Introduction of the TEACH Act
- Blog post: Another Victory in a Book Battle
- The Chronicle of Higher Education: Bill Would Require Instructional Technology to Be Accessible to All
- NFB press release: The National Federation of the Blind and The Association of American Publishers Applaud Introduction of "TEACH Act"
- Boston Globe op-ed: Digital education shouldn’t bypass disabled by Kyle Shachmut
- NFB press release: The National Federation of the Blind Applauds Landmark Ruling: Authors Guild v. Google
- NFB press release: The National Federation of the Blind Praises DOJ Settlement with Louisiana Tech
- NFB press release: The National Federation of the Blind and a Blind Student File Suit Against Maricopa Community College District
- NFB press release: Florida State Resolves Litigation with Students
- NFB press release: The National Federation of the Blind Testifies Before Senate Committee on Importance of Accessible Education Technology
- NFB press release: The National Federation of the Blind Urges Swift Action on Recommendations for Accessible Higher Education Materials
- NFB press release:The National Federation of the Blind and Penn State Resolve Accessibility Complaint
- NFB press release:Blind Students Sue Florida State University for Discrimination
- NFB press release: The National Federation of the Blind Commends Department of Education for New Accessible Technology Guidelines
- NFB press release: Adoption of Google Apps Program Discriminates Against the Blind
- NFB press release: Penn State Discriminates Against Blind Students and Faculty
- NFB press release: Desire2Learn Attains the National Federation of the Blind Nonvisual Accessibility Gold Level Web Certification
- NFB press release: The National Federation of the Blind Nonvisual Accessibility Web Certification Granted to Instructure Learning Management System
- NFB press release: The National Federation of the Blind Defends Rights of Blind Students
- NFB press release: The National Federation of the Blind and Blackboard to Demonstrate New Accessibility Features at CSUN
- NFB press release: The National Federation of the Blind Commends Justice Department on Kindle Settlements
- NFB press release: Blindness Organizations and Arizona State University Resolve Litigation Over Kindle
- NFB press release: The National Federation of the Blind Commends University of Illinois for Commitment to Accessible E-Book Technology
- NFB press release: Universities Will Not Deploy Kindle DX as Textbook Reader
- NFB press release: Blind Student Files Discrimination Suit Against Miami University
- Inside Higher Ed: Audiobooks Aren’t Enough
- USA Today: Disability rights advocates press for accessible technology
- Inside Higher Ed: Ed Tech Accessibility
- Blog post: Five More Years of Accessibility?
If you work for a Member of Congress…
If you are a student…
Get additional resources from the National Association of Blind Students at http://nabslink.org/
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:
- Guidelines for accessible web content
- Mobile accessibility
- Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) Overview
- EPUB 3.0, the distribution and interchange format standard for digital publications and documents
- Technology tools for accessibility and compliance with the accessibility standards under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
- Quick links to resources for publishers, AMPs, SEA/LEA instructional resource centers, and individuals involved in producing AIM as developed by CAST
Take initiative like these groups:
- The Association of American Publishers’ EPUB3 Implementation Project
- Apple, one of the few companies committed to out-of-the-box accessibility
- Desire2Learn, an education technology company committed to accessibility
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.
- Auburn University
- Auburn University Web Accessiblity Standards
- University System of Ohio Memo to University Presidents on Accessibility
- California State University
- George Mason University’s Commitment to Web Accessibility
- Ohio State’s Accessibility Policy and Standards
- Oregon State University
- University of Delaware
For more information: Lauren McLarney, Manager of Government Affairs, National Federation of the Blind, (410) 659-9314 extension 2207.