As a blind college student, I know firsthand what it's like to go to class and not have the accessible materials needed to learn. Each day blind college students are dropping out of classes, abandoning long-held dream career plans, and failing to graduate - not because of lack of abilities, intellect or work ethic - but because of the lack of commitment by institutions of higher education to abide by the law. Congress must pass legislation that creates accessibility guidelines for electronic instructional materials used in postsecondary education.
The Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act (HR 3505) will provide equal access to educational materials to students with disabilities across the country. The new TEACH Act guidelines will offer a direct path for schools towards compliance with current disability law, and gives directions to manufacturers which will increase the number of affordable, accessible options in the marketplace.
Leaps in technology are bringing new forms of educational materials like digital books, learning management systems, interactive web content and electronic PDFs to replace traditional instructional materials like hand-outs and textbooks. The print world is inherently inaccessible to a blind person, but this digital transformation creates opportunity to expand the circle of participation and eliminate the need for specialized accommodations. Yet the overwhelming majority of these materials are not designed to include or be compatible with assistive software, such as text-to-speech, denying blind students access to information that is so readily available to their sighted peers.
Unfortunately, this is a widespread problem. Any blind or print disabled student can recount their experiences of starting class without a textbook, having to complete homework without access to the assignment information, or being unable to check for grades or post to discussion boards for students and instructors, because the university’s web system is inaccessible. The college experience, which has become one of the most formative experiences in our society, is a nightmare for many.
The TEACH Act is based on the recommendation of a Congressionally-authorized study; it creates no new legal mandate for schools and has the official support of the publishing industry. These guidelines are sorely needed to protect equality in the classroom for blind and print disabled students. Will you remove these barriers for blind students and cosponsor this important legislation?