Regarding Access to Technology in Higher Education

A2013-04: Regarding Access to Technology in Higher Education

Adopted In : 2013

Topics : legislation

WHEREAS, the integration of technology in the educational sphere has fundamentally altered the teaching and learning processes, allowing curricular content once available only in textbooks and during lectures to be disseminated through electronic books, web content, digital library databases, advanced software, and mobile applications; and

WHEREAS, this intersection of technology and education creates opportunity to expand the circle of participation by print-disabled students and allows universal access to mainstream educational products for all students; and

WHEREAS, in the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, Congress authorized a commission, the Advisory Committee on Accessible Instructional Materials for Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education (AIM Commission), to look at the status of accessible educational technology in postsecondary education; and

WHEREAS, in 2010 the civil rights offices of the United States Department of Justice and the United States Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague letter, reminding institutions of higher education of their legal obligation to procure and deploy accessible educational technology and that equal access in the classroom is a civil right guaranteed by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Rehab Act) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and

WHEREAS, in 2011 the AIM Commission published its report, finding that manufacturers have failed to embrace accessibility solutions for their products; institutions have failed to minimize the impact of inaccessible technology on their disabled students; and, because of this proliferation of inaccessible materials, blind and other print-disabled students experience a variety of challenges including blocked access to enrollment and educational opportunities; and

WHEREAS, in the five years since the AIM Commission’s authorization, technology has evolved rapidly, creating more and more innovative solutions for accessibility and full participation; and

WHEREAS, the commission’s findings show that manufacturers and institutions of higher education have completely failed to take advantage of this opportunity and are perpetuating the separate-but-equal approach to education; and

WHEREAS, technology exists to make digital instructional materials and their delivery systems fully accessible, but most postsecondary institutions are claiming the technology is too expensive, while manufacturers are saying there is no demand for it; and

WHEREAS, the AIM Commission report recommends correcting this problem with the development of accessibility guidelines for instructional materials, which would provide clarity to manufacturers and postsecondary institutions about what accessibility looks like and which materials are acceptable when it comes to equal access for print-disabled students and the institutions’ legal obligations under the ADA and Rehab Act; and

WHEREAS, in response to this recommendation, the National Federation of the Blind has drafted model legislation called the Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act (TEACH), which calls on the U.S. Access Board to develop accessibility guidelines for instructional materials used in postsecondary education, deems compliance with said guidelines as compliance with the ADA and Rehab Act, and establishes a minimum usability standard for alternatives or modifications; and

WHEREAS, the model language of TEACH has been endorsed by the American Association of People with Disabilities, the National Association of the Deaf, the National Council on Independent Living, the Association of American Publishers, and seven other organizations; and

WHEREAS, Congressman Tom Petri has committed to introducing the bill in the coming weeks; and

WHEREAS, several institutions of higher education have taken action without the TEACH guidelines, proving to be role models by committing to accessibility and taking steps from the top levels of administration to ensure that campus-wide digital educational technology and information will be accessible to their blind students and faculty; and

WHEREAS, these institutions include the California State University, Pennsylvania State University, and George Mason University: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in Convention assembled this Twenty-Seventh day of October 2013, in the city of Bloomington, Minnesota, that this organization commend Congressman Petri for his leadership on this critical issue; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we strongly urge the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate to introduce and pass the Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act to protect the civil rights of blind and print-disabled students fully and to put a stop to the separate approach to education that is unnecessarily perpetuated by inaccessible educational technology; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge institutions of higher education in the state of Minnesota to be proactive about meeting their legal obligations and prove to be leaders in the field of education by adopting accessibility policies that only call for the development, procurement and deployment of fully accessible technology.

More resolutions