What’s wrong with the TEACH Act?

TEACH aims to ensure that ed tech is accessible for all students, but some say the approach is misguided

teach-accessibility-technologyLegislation currently under consideration by Congress has opened up a fissure between institutions of higher education and advocacy groups for students with disabilities.

Known as the TEACH (Technology, Equality and Accessibility in College and Higher Education) Act, H.R. 3505 and S. 2060 are backed by the National Federation of the Blind and the Association of American Publishers, with endorsements coming from more than a dozen other organizations. The goal of the proposed legislation is to establish accessibility guidelines and standards for technology in higher education that, if followed, would ensure a school’s compliance under the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

However well-intended the TEACH standards may be, some higher ed leaders fear that many institutions lack the ability to meet their rigor, potentially grinding the adoption of these vital resources to a halt.

eCampus News talked with Jarret Cummings, director of policy and external relations for EDUCAUSE, about his organization’s concerns with the proposed legislation—and a possible compromise.

1) How will the proposed TEACH Act benefit or potentially harm students with disabilities?

The stated aim of the TEACH Act is to develop voluntary guidelines to help advance the accessibility of electronic instructional materials and related technologies. EDUCAUSE, along with other leading higher education associations [see the jointly developed TEACH Act analysis], supports this goal. We are concerned that the bill as currently written, however, would impose a new accessibility standard for digital materials and technologies that colleges and universities could not meet in many cases.

We believe this would greatly constrain the adoption, development, and use of technology to support teaching and learning for all students, including those with disabilities. The proposed standard would deny institutions the flexibility to meet a student’s individual needs and severely limit the ability of instructors to use all types of content and technologies—from multimedia interactive software to dynamic 3D simulations—that enhance the learning experience for their students.

2) Is the proposed TEACH Act at odds with the Americans With Disabilities Act or does it build on it?

The present version of the TEACH Act would create a new, more rigid standard for accessibility without clearly incorporating the provisions of current law that allow institutions to flexibly address the needs of individual students.

For example, it would require institutions to use only digital content and technologies that are completely accessible to any student with any disability under any and all conditions, regardless of commercial availability or options for reasonable accommodation.

(Next page: Potential standoff; steps to ensure equal access)

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