Equal Access in Education: An NFB Priority

Two blind students weighing cheetos, using a Braille display, and using a tablet during one of our programs for blind teens.

Equal Access in Education: An NFB Priority

As schools reopen this fall, some virtually, some in person, and some in a hybridized format, blind students may encounter new and challenging accessibility barriers. Some students already have.

Kai, an NFB member from Georgia, was removed from three of his fall classes because the education technology used for remote learning, Edgenuity, is inaccessible with screen-access software. Instead, he will be provided separate one-on-one instruction, accessible documents, and supplemental Braille packets for his courses, but he will not have access to any of the interactive learning tools or other features that Edgenuity provides to his sighted classmates.

K-12 districts and institutions of higher ed have had time over the summer to consider how best to deliver instruction to students. The NFB has and continues to push educational institutions to include blind students’ IEP, accommodation, and accessibility needs in their decision-making processes. You’ll recall that in April, President Riccobono wrote to US Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, firmly reminding her of schools’ obligations and ability to provide FAPE (free appropriate public education), amidst the COVID-19 crisis.

This fall, blind teachers and blind school personnel may also encounter increased access barriers if the instructor-facing side of an educational technology has not been designed to be accessible. Here too, the NFB has continued to push for equal access. For example, a critical part of the negotiated Hager-Baltimore County Public Schools settlement agreement was a required four-hour training for designated BCPS human resources staff regarding the workplace accommodations and modifications that blind teachers use for full and equal access to curricula, educational tools, and more. Ronza Othman, president of the NFB of Maryland, and Cayte Mendez, president of the National Organization of Blind Educators, led the very well-received training and reinforced without question that the real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight, but the prevalent misunderstanding of how blind people access information and engage in daily life.

Cayte Mendez and Ronza Othman standing outside near the BCPS building where the training for BCPS human resources staff took place.Many questions remain regarding how schools will implement instruction this fall, but with certainty, the NFB will continue to prioritize equal access to education within all the work we do. Though we cannot pursue litigation for every matter, we work strategically to create systemic change.

Stay tuned for more resources from the NFB regarding this important matter. And please let us know what you or your student is experiencing this fall. Take time to complete the NFB’s education technology survey—the information you share will help to drive our legal work and advocacy. And, if you are a teacher, like Andrew Hager, whose employer has denied your requested accommodations and terminated you because of your blindness, please notify the NFB by emailing Valerie Yingling at [email protected].

—Valerie Yingling