By Mark Riccobono
On April 11, 2013, I wrote a blog post entitled, “We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident—Do You?” That post was the result of talking to many people about the shift in thinking that needs to occur with respect to technology and accessibility. My post was also motivated by a letter that my colleague, Daniel F. Goldstein, who has represented the National Federation of the Blind in many cases for over a quarter of a century, wrote to the Office for Civil Rights regarding an April 4 article that covered our concern over the use of inaccessible Amazon Kindle products in schools and similarly inaccessible educational technologies.
In the midst of the buzz about Amazon finally moving toward accessibility, Mr. Goldstein received a response to his letter on May 6, 2013. I was very pleased to read the response from Seth M. Galanter, Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, in which Mr. Galanter clearly reiterates that “equal access for students with disabilities is the law.” To paraphrase, Mr. Galanter emphasizes that students with disabilities must receive the educational benefits provided by the inaccessible technology in an equally effective and equally integrated manner, and that this requires students with disabilities to be afforded, in a timely manner, the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services, with substantially equivalent ease of use, as other students. You can read Mr. Goldstein's letter
and Mr. Galanter’s full response
in the Recent Updates section of the Make Kindle E-books Accessible
page on the NFB Web site.
As I noted in my previous blog post, the only logical way to meet the standard is for the same technology to be accessible and usable by all students—eliminating the notion of separate and unequal access. I am surprised by those who have a hard time understanding why the subject of technology accessibility is so critical to our struggle for equal access to education. I am pleased that Mr. Galanter and the Office of Civil Rights appear to hold these truths to be self-evident, and I am hopeful that the schools and technology developers who are in a position to implement accessibility continue to uphold their responsibility to equal access for students with disabilities in their programs and services. Equality will come when accessibility is included from the beginning, and not as a bolted-on, second-class afterthought. We continue to need champions for equal access to stand with us to demonstrate the truth about accessibility and to ensure equality in education.