Ed-tech accessibility could hinge on Congressional action

Recent lawsuits have focused on the use of eReaders in higher education.

Advocates for blind college students commended a federal report recommending steps for improving ed-tech accessibility on campuses—but without prompt attention from Congressional lawmakers, the laundry list of suggestions won’t become policy in much of higher education.

A federal commission released its 18 recommendations to expand accessibility to students with disabilities Dec.5, highlighting plans to incentivize publishers of educational material to make the material usable for all students, creating professional development programs to make educators more aware of accessibility issues, and including accessibility-related metadata in classroom material.

The Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities, released its recommendations after studying accessibility on campuses for 14 months.

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With the rise of digital content—eBooks, specifically—on campuses nationwide, officials from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) have reminded colleges and universities in recent years that electronic textbooks and online learning programs shouldn’t be implemented in courses unless the material is accessible for students who are blind, or have another disability.

Mark Riccobono, executive director of the National Federation of the Blind’s (NFB) Jernigan Institute, who helped compose the federal report, said accessibility issues have risen on higher education’s priority list. Until Congress holds hearings on the topic and enforces the report’s recommendations, many college students will be left without access to digital classroom material.

“We’re at a crucial point right now, and unless Congress moves,” the educational technology market, along with colleges, “won’t listen,” Riccobono said. “My fear is that students that need more accessibility today are not getting it, and might not get it.”

Publishers and distributors of educational materials are encouraged in the AIM report to include metadata on their websites to make it easier to school officials to find books, for instance, that have proven accessible for disabled students.

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