Resolution 2021-01 Regarding Access to Educational Platforms and Materials


WHEREAS, access to the full curriculum is vital for participation in in-person and virtual education settings for all students; and

WHEREAS, accessibility barriers impede full access to the educational environment for blind and low vision students and for others with print disabilities; and

WHEREAS, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) all require schools to afford students with disabilities the same opportunities that are provided to non-disabled students; and

WHEREAS, the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) and the United States Department of Education (Ed) issued a Joint Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) on June 29, 2010, noting that "individuals with disabilities must be provided with the same aids, benefits, or services that provide an equal opportunity to achieve the same result or the same level of achievement as others"; and

WHEREAS, on November 12, 2014, USDOJ and Ed issued a Joint DCL stating that: "Students with disabilities, like all students, must be provided the opportunity to fully participate in our public schools," and that "a critical aspect of participation is communication with others"; and

WHEREAS, in September 2017 and on March 12, 2020, Ed unequivocally reminded school districts that students with disabilities retain full rights to educational opportunities, including access to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) whenever school districts provide any educational opportunities to nondisabled students; and

WHEREAS, federal guidance with respect to these laws and principles makes it clear that information and communication technology (ICT), including digital content and services such as educational apps and websites, must be accessible to blind and low-vision students; and

WHEREAS, many school districts in Maryland have ignored their longstanding accessibility obligations to blind and low-vision students, purchasing and implementing educational technologies that are only partially accessible to these students or are not accessible at all; and

WHEREAS, despite clear guidance from Ed, the shift to part-time or full-time remote instruction in many Maryland school districts due to the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically highlighted the learning disparities and challenges faced by blind and low- vision students, especially since many remote learning solutions are inaccessible; and

WHEREAS, at the 2020 convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, we passed Resolution 2020-01, which demanded "that the Maryland State Department of Education and school districts throughout the state purchase and implement the use of educational materials that are fully accessible to blind and low vision students"; and

WHEREAS, our advocacy effort culminated in the introduction, at our urging, of the Accountability Act for Accessible K-12 Education in the 2021 session of the Maryland General Assembly; and

WHEREAS, this legislative solution failed because of opposition from entities representing county education departments and school districts; and

WHEREAS, this organization, through the assistance of Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, has met in good faith with these entities to try and craft a solution that will ensure compliance with state and federal law in this area through appropriate coordination, monitoring, and penalties for noncompliance: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland in Convention assembled this fourteenth day of November, 2021, in the city of Baltimore, that this organization urge local, county, and state officials and their representatives to continue to work with us to craft legislation, regulations, and/or agreements that will ensure the procurement of accessible educational technology; and

BE it further resolved that we continue to demand that the Maryland State Department of Education and school districts across the state respect and vindicate the right of blind and low-vision students to the benefit of public education by procuring only information and communication technology that is fully accessible.