Colleges and universities need an education about accessibility.
Students with disabilities need accessibility to get an education.
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 digital databases, learning management systems, and applications. Traditional print materials are inherently inaccessible to disabled students, but technology creates opportunities to expand the circle of participation. These opportunities are missed when the majority of these materials are inaccessible to students with disabilities.
The use of inaccessible technology by institutions of higher education is a violation of law. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability, but these laws were written before technology permeated the classroom. In 2010 the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education issued guidance to institutions of higher education clarifying that the use of inaccessible technology is a form of discrimination. In the four years since, several of the country’s leading institutions have faced legal action for continuing to use inaccessible technology.
Accessibility solutions are widely available, but schools and manufacturers are resisting. A 2009 congressionally authorized study found that, despite innovations in text-to-speech, refreshable Braille, and other accessibility features that create promise for equal access, there is still persistent unmet need. Developers claim there is not enough demand to justify making accessible products, and schools claim to have limited options and a lack of knowledge about accessibility to properly guide procurement. Because of this blame game, developers are moving too slowly and schools are openly violating the law.
Guidelines are sorely needed to guide the market and lift burdens off disabled students. While schools and manufacturers are waiting for the other to take action, blind students are facing insurmountable barriers to their education. No student can be expected to succeed in college if he or she is denied access to course material, yet the solutions available to remedy this discrimination are ignored! Universally-accepted accessibility guidelines will give direction to manufacturers, clarity to schools about how to meet their legal obligations regarding technology, and long-overdue equal access for disabled students.
Technology, Education, and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act:
Develops accessibility guidelines for instructional materials and related information technology. The Access Board will consult experts and stakeholders to develop functional performance criteria for electronic instructional materials and related information technologies so that those materials are usable by individuals with disabilities. The guidelines will serve as a flexible prescription for accessibility for both developers and institutions of higher education.
Provides incentive for institutions of higher education to follow the guidelines. Institutions of higher education that use technology that conforms with the guidelines will be deemed in compliance with the provisions of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act that pertain to schools’ use of technology.
Establishes a minimum usability standard for all technology in the classroom. Institutions of higher education may use materials that do not conform to the guidelines only if that material allows disabled students to enjoy the same educational benefits in an equally integrated and equally effective manner, with ease of use substantially equivalent to that of nondisabled students.
PROTECT EQUALITY IN THE CLASSROOM.
Cosponsor the Technology, Education, and Accessibility
in College and Higher Education Act (TEACH Act) HR 3505.
For more information contact:
Lauren McLarney, Government Affairs Specialist, National Federation of the Blind
Phone: (410) 659-9314, Extension 2207. Email: <[email protected]>
To cosponsor, contact:
Kevin James, Legislative Assistant, Congressman Tom Petri (R-WI)
Phone: (202) 225-2476. Email: <[email protected]>
The TEACH Act is the result of collaboration between the NFB and the Association of American Publishers, the leading trade association of the U.S. publishing industry.