Release Date: 
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Chris Danielsen
Director of Public Relations
National Federation of the Blind
(410) 659-9314, extension 2330
(410) 262-1281 (Cell)

National Federation of the Blind Applauds Groundbreaking Agreement on Equal Access in Higher Education

University of Montana Will Implement Comprehensive Accessibility Measures

Baltimore, Maryland (March 19, 2014): The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the nation’s leading advocate for equal access in higher education by blind students, today applauded a groundbreaking agreement that has been reached between the University of Montana and the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Under the agreement, the University of Montana will develop a comprehensive set of policies and procedures to ensure that all electronic and information technology procured or deployed by the university can be used by the blind and other students with disabilities. Steps that will be taken by the university include developing an accessibility policy; training faculty and staff on the policy; conducting a survey of current and former students with disabilities to identify the problems that they have experienced; developing a grievance procedure for students and faculty who experience access issues; and more. The agreement covers technology used in all aspects of education and campus life, including electronic textbooks and course materials, online course registration, online courseware and learning management systems, classroom technology (such as smart podiums and clickers used to take attendance or conduct classroom quizzes), library services, on-campus banking services, university office equipment, and much more.  In order for technology to be accessible to students who are blind, it must have the ability to provide audio or Braille output or to work with technology used by the blind that can provide such output, such as text-to-speech screen access software or electronic Braille displays.
Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “While complaints by individual students and legal actions can incrementally improve access to higher education, there is no substitute for comprehensive and effective policies that are implemented and enforced at the highest levels by university administrations.  This agreement, which is the most comprehensive of its kind to date, represents a thorough and systematic approach that will benefit University of Montana students for years to come and serve as a model for university policies and practices across the nation.  We applaud the University of Montana for the extraordinary commitment that it is making to ensure that all of its students, including those who are blind or who have other disabilities, receive the equal education that the law demands and the full benefit of the college experience that the university provides.  We also applaud the work of the Office for Civil Rights, which has crafted this agreement with extensive input from the National Federation of the Blind and which will work with the university to ensure its full implementation.”
"The University of Montana is committed to making sure that all students have access to education, and in today's world that includes access to technology," said University of Montana President Royce Engstrom.  "We want to make sure that the technology we use on our Web site, in our classrooms, and in our offices is available to all."