Advocates Lobby for Unified Accessibility Standards in Colleges

Disability rights advocates around the country are calling on universities to take more proactive measures to make sure that as technology continues to pervade education, special needs students won’t be left behind. According to Kimberly Riley of USA Today, at the moment, too much of the burden of keeping up with peers’ technology use is falling on special needs students themselves.

To make it easier for disabled students to use technology, the National Federation of the Blind is also leading efforts to pass a bill that would mandate the Access Board, an independent governmental agency, to oversee efforts to draft a single accessibility standard for all institutions of higher education. This standard would open up the use of technology in the classroom to visually impaired students instead of forcing them to seek out third party solutions for themselves.

The NFB is working with Wisconsin Rep. Tom Petri, a Republican, to find common ground on the legislation and aims to introduce a bill in the House by the end of August. Petri’s office is still exploring the issue, said Lee Brooks, the representative’s spokesman.

“We are continuing to meet on it,” Brooks said.

The problem is becoming more acute as a growing number of schools incorporate digital learning solutions into their classrooms. This means that students with visual impairments are being increasingly left out as their disability keeps them from taking full advantage of the innovations made possible by technology.

At the moment, accessibility standards are being set by individual colleges, and as the experience of Jordan Moon, a graduate of Arizona State University, demonstrates, sometimes those standards leave much to be desired.

Jordan Moon graduated from Arizona State University last year with a lesson that may outlast his journalism and political science degrees: how to get help. As a visually impaired student, some assignments, like newspaper designs, were nearly impossible to complete on his own.

“There are a lot of times where materials are way too print-featured and graphic-oriented that you have no choice but to get an aide,” says Moon, who is legally blind. “Braille and software technology can only do so much.”

Some assistance was provided by ASU’s disability center, but for big-ticket items like a laptop or Braille note-taking software, he was on his own.

If NFB succeeds, adaptive technology on campus could become as ubiquitous as rubber pen-grips – which were also once used only as an aid to disabled students but are now embraced by writers of all abilities.