Resolution 2014 – 02 Regarding support of the TEACH ACT

WHEREAS, the integration of technology in the educational sphere has fundamentally altered the teaching and learning processes, allowing curricular content once available only in textbooks and during lectures to be disseminated through electronic books, web content, digital library databases, advanced software, and mobile applications; and

WHEREAS, this intersection of technology and education creates opportunity to expand the circle of participation by print-disabled students and allows universal access to mainstream educational products for all students; and

WHEREAS, in the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, Congress authorized a commission, the Advisory Committee on Accessible Instructional Materials for Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education (AIM Commission), to look at the status of accessible educational technology in postsecondary education; and

WHEREAS, in 2011 the AIM Commission published its report, finding that manufacturers have failed to embrace accessibility solutions for their products; institutions have failed to minimize the impact of inaccessible technology on their disabled students; and, as result of this proliferation of inaccessible materials, blind and other print-disabled students experience a variety of challenges including blocked access to enrollment and educational opportunities; and

WHEREAS, in the six years between the AIM Commission’s authorization and the issuance of its report, technology has evolved rapidly, creating more and more innovative solutions for accessibility and full participation; and

WHEREAS, the commission’s findings show that manufacturers and institutions of higher education have completely failed to take advantage of this opportunity and are perpetuating the separate-but-equal approach to education; and

WHEREAS, this missed opportunity and widespread inaccessibility in the educational sphere have put huge, unnecessary burdens on blind and other print-disabled students, a fact illustrated by the findings of the AIM Commission report; and

WHEREAS, in a 2010 Dear Colleague letter addressed to all presidents of institutions of higher education, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice asserted that equal access to technology in the classroom is a civil right guaranteed by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act; and

WHEREAS, the condition of inaccessible technology in college classrooms has not improved since the 2010 Dear Colleague letter or the publishing of the AIM Commission Report in 2011, demonstrating that more action must be taken in order to remedy this problem; and

WHEREAS, the AIM Commission report recommends correcting this problem with the development of accessibility guidelines for instructional materials, which would provide guidance to manufacturers and serve as requirements for postsecondary institutions, ensuring that all products would be fully accessible to blind and print-disabled students; and

WHEREAS, in response to this recommendation the National Federation of the Blind has drafted model legislation called the Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act (TEACH), which calls on the U.S. Access Board to develop voluntary accessibility guidelines for instructional materials used in postsecondary education; and

WHEREAS, Colleges and Universities would benefit from following the guidelines because the legislation contains a safe harbor clause, protecting universities from litigation; and

WHEREAS, the TEACH Act was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Tom Petri, HR 3505, and in the United States Senate by Senators Warren and Hatch, S. 2060; and

WHEREAS, this legislation has been endorsed by the American Association of People with Disabilities, the National Association of the Deaf, the National Council on Independent Living, the Association of American Publishers, and seven other organizations; and

WHEREAS, to ensure that they meet their obligations and provide equal opportunities for blind students, educational institutions must commit to accessibility from the top rather than delegating accessibility to a single and usually powerless low-level administrative office or position: Now, Therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland in Convention assembled this sixteenth day of November, 2014 in the city of Towson, Maryland, that this organization urge the Presidents of every Maryland university, college and community college to publicly affirm their institution’s commitment to equal access for all students; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon every University and College in the State of Maryland to support passage of the TEACH Act to provide needed accessibility guidelines to be used in higher education.