What’s wrong with the TEACH Act?

3) So are you at a standoff with the TEACH Act supporters on accessibility standards?  

Recent discussions between the TEACH Act’s proponents and higher education associations, including EDUCAUSE, have been productive, and we have agreed to work together to pursue the goals of the TEACH Act based on established legal standards and provisions. History has shown us that accessibility improvements can and do lead to technology innovations, which is why we are pleased now to be working with the bill’s primary proponents, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the Association of American Publishers (AAP), to advance the goals of the TEACH Act in a way that will encourage, not inhibit, innovation.

A number of higher education associations, including EDUCAUSE, met with NFB and AAP representatives in early October to discuss the TEACH Act. We collectively agreed to work together over the next few months on a compromise approach to establishing voluntary guidelines for postsecondary electronic instructional materials. Those talks are still at a preliminary stage, but proceeding with goodwill on all sides.

4) With respect to technology accessibility, some educators have described the threat of legal action as a Sword of Damocles hanging over higher ed. How much of a concern is this?

Institutions have varied in the effectiveness with which they address IT accessibility issues, and some have at times not achieved the level of effectiveness that I am sure they would like.

But higher education institutions take their compliance obligations seriously, which is why we are so concerned about the potential impact of the TEACH Act, as currently written, on teaching, learning, and technology. We are working with proponents of the bill to create a dynamic and flexible process for drafting voluntary guidelines that is driven by—and responsive to—stakeholders. We hope this will support the efforts of colleges and universities to fulfill their responsibilities in terms of accessibility without inhibiting the use of technology to advance teaching and learning, which benefits all students.

5) Aside from legislation such as the TEACH Act, what is the best way to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to educational technologies?

The higher education community has, and must continue to, collaborate, share best practices, and work alongside accessibility advocacy groups to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to learning opportunities and educational materials. Guidelines are only part of the puzzle. Colleges and universities also rely on faculty and staff that work every day to develop, adapt, and leverage innovative technologies and materials to meet student needs. These efforts include accessibility-research centers that design and develop new technologies and content formats; faculty and staff who work together to convert instructional resources into accessible formats when appropriate; and IT accessibility professionals who work with their academic and administrative colleagues to identify and incorporate accessible software, systems, applications, and devices into the instructional environment.

Our dialogue with the Act’s proponents has brought further attention to the important issue of improving accessibility for students with disabilities. In doing so, it reflects the value of consistent engagement among major stakeholders in sustaining progress on the use of technology to improve learning outcomes for all students.

Andrew Barbour is a freelance writer based in Cape Charles, VA.

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