picture of accessibility in college

The Law in the United States

The American with Disabilities Act, otherwise known as the ADA, demands equally effective communication for people without or with disabilities – those that are in need of accessibility compliant materials. It requires that all educational institutions provide content or learning materials that are fully accessible when distributed offline or online.

Schools, colleges and universities have to ensure that those who are blind or have impaired vision can utilise the same information, have the same accessibility, enjoy the same services offered and engage with the same learning experience as fully able students. This includes experiencing an equivalent level of ease of access/use of materials that everyone else enjoys.

The Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights of the Department of Education expressed to every college president in the Unites States in 2010, that the requirement of use of inaccessible emerging technology whilst studying is a violation of the American with Disabilities Act.

Since 2010, a number of higher education institutions and business organisations have breached this new American with Disabilities Act, which has resulted in legal charges being brought against them…

Some notable lawsuits

In 2010, six colleges were subject to charges filed by the Federation of the Blind, stating that they would not purchase the Amazon Kindle DX e-book reader as part of their college educational courses unless it was fully accessible. Settlements were reached with the colleges.

In 2012, the Sacramento Public Library Authority reached an agreement regarding e-reader devices with the U.S. Justice Department and National Federation of the Blind. The Library Authority agreed to launch a pilot program using accessible text-to-speech devices with a test group identified with the help of the California State Braille and Talking Book Library. Once pilot testing was complete, it was agreed that accessible devices would be made available to the visually impaired public beginning in 2013.

In 2013, the Justice Department reached a settlement with Louisiana Tech University and the Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana System to remedy alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The settlement surrounded allegations that the University violated the ADA by using a version of an online learning product that was inaccessible to a student that was blind. For nearly one month into the University quarter, the blind student continued to experience accessibility issues, so much so at this point, the student was so far behind in his coursework that he felt compelled to withdraw from the course. The settlement also resolved allegations that in a subsequent course, the same student was not provided accessible course materials for discussions in classes or preparations for an upcoming exam with adequate time to revise.

It’s expected that compliance lawsuits and aggressive pursuits of these issues for the disabled and less able will continue to grow in prevalence over the next few years until holistic compliance exists throughout western educational systems, with the USA and the UK leading the precedent in these legal reforms.

List of references

Justice Department Reaches Three Settlements Under the Americans with Disabilities Act Regarding the Use of Electronic Book Readers

Justice Department Settles with Sacramento, Calif., Public Library Authority Over Inaccessible “E-Reader” Devices

Justice Department Settles with Louisiana Tech University Over Inaccessible Course Materials