Ed-tech accessibility could hinge on Congressional action

“Once such metadata are available to the supply chain, educators will be able to select curriculum products offering the widest range of accessibility features,” the report said. “Equally, individual print-impaired readers will potentially be able to compare their personal accessibility requirements with the range of features offered by a product to determine which version, if any, of a particular product would be suitable for their needs.”

Simply presenting educational technology leaders with the accessibility problems adherent in many digital and web-based tools, Riccobono said, will help campus decision makers consider accessibility when choosing eBooks, for example.

“You can bet that every single day, the IT [chief] thinks about protecting students’ data,” he said. “That person had not been thinking about accessibility every single day. It has never been first and foremost on that person’s mind, but it should be.”

ED officials became more heavily involved with eBook and eReader use in higher education after complaints surfaced at several universities—including Arizona State University—that the Amazon Kindle wasn’t usable for students with disabilities.

Federal rules for how eReaders can legally be used by colleges and universities were clarified last spring after advocates for blind and low-vision students criticized eReader pilot programs on several campuses in 2010.

The revised rules, 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.

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.”

Technology accessibility grabbed headlines in March after the NFB filed a complaint against New York University (NYU) and Northwestern University when they adopted Gmail and other Google applications that aren’t fully functional with text-to-speech technology.

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