Feds offer more guidance on eReader accessibility in college

Arizona State University was among the schools that violated federal rules for eReader use.

Federal rules for how eReaders can legally be used by colleges and universities were clarified by the U.S. Education Department (ED) May 26 after advocates for blind and low-vision students criticized eReader pilot programs on several campuses in 2010.

ED’s latest list of guidelines, published online in a “frequently asked questions” format, reiterate that students who are blind “must be afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as sighted students” when campus officials launch initiatives that put eReaders in students’ hands.

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“Because technology is evolving, it has the capability to enhance the academic experience for everyone, especially students with disabilities,” the ED document said. “Innovation and equal access can go hand in hand.”

ED officials released a “dear colleague” letter in June 2010 after more than a year of complaints from low-sighted and blind students attending colleges that have piloted eReader programs.

The latest release says that rules outlined in the “dear colleague” letter also apply to elementary and secondary schools.

Colleges can provide books on tape, for example, for disabled students who can’t access emerging technologies like eReaders, which can have larger font for students with low vision.

The ED guidelines say that “the alternative media must provide access to the benefits of technology in an equally effective and equally integrated manner.”