Braille Monitor                                                March 2013

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

Inaccessible technology in the classroom creates a separate-but-equal
approach to learning that discriminates against disabled students.

The evolution of technology has fundamentally changed the education system. The scope of instructional materials used to facilitate the teaching and learning process at institutions of higher education has expanded. Curricular content comes in the form of digital books, PDFs, webpages, etc.; and most of this content is delivered through technology such as courseware, library databases, digital software, and applications. These advancements have revolutionized access to information, but the majority of these materials are partially or completely inaccessible to students with disabilities.

Barriers to access for disabled students create a separate-but-equal approach to learning. According to a 2009 Government Accountability Office report, approximately 10.8 percent of students enrolled in postsecondary institutions had some disability. The mass deployment of inaccessible electronic instructional materials creates barriers to learning for millions of disabled students. When a website is not compatible with screen-access software, a blind student is denied access to online course information; if nondisabled students are using an inaccessible e-reader, a student who cannot read print has to petition the school for an accessible device and thus potentially different content. This approach to access is discriminatory and places unnecessary barriers in the way of students with disabilities.

Technology exists to remedy this discrimination, but postsecondary institutions are not investing in accessibility. Innovations in text-to-speech, refreshable Braille, and other technologies have created promise for equal access for disabled students; yet an unacceptable number of postsecondary institutions do not make it a priority to purchase accessible technology. Schools are buying inaccessible instructional materials and then separate, accessible items on an ad-hoc basis for students with disabilities. Some resort merely to retrofitting the inaccessible technology, which sometimes makes accessibility worse. Until postsecondary institutions harness their purchasing power, the market for accessible instructional materials will remain limited, and disabled students will continue to be left behind.

Equality in the classroom is a civil right. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. The deployment of inaccessible instructional materials violates these laws.

Technology, Education, and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act:

Develops accessibility guidelines for instructional materials. The Access Board will consult experts and stakeholders to develop technical specifications for electronic instructional materials and related information technologies so that those materials are usable by individuals with disabilities.

Establishes a minimum accessibility standard for instructional materials used by the government and in postsecondary academic settings. The Department of Justice will implement the guidelines developed by the Access Board as enforceable standards applicable to all departments and agencies of the federal government and institutions of higher education covered in Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Promotes competition while ensuring equality. The guidelines provide guidance to manufacturers on how to develop products that are fully accessible to disabled users, and the required standards will ensure that all colleges, universities, and federal agencies procure and deploy only fully accessible instructional materials, ending the separate-but-equal approach to learning.

PROTECT EQUALITY IN THE CLASSROOM.

Cosponsor the Technology, Education, and Accessibility
in College and Higher Education Act (TEACH).

For more information contact:
Lauren McLarney, Government Affairs Specialist
National Federation of the Blind
Phone: (410) 659-9314, Extension 2207 email: <lmclarney@nfb.org>

 

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