Technology and Equal Access

blog30Today I received the following email from the administrators at my university with a letter from the Department of Justice attached.  An excerpt:

“We write to express concern on the part of the Department of Justice and the Department of Education that colleges and universities are using electronic book readers that are not accessible to students who are blind or have low vision and to seek your help in ensuring that this emerging technology is used in classroom settings in a manner that is permissible under federal law. A serious problem with some of these devices is that they lack an accessible text-to-speech function. Requiring use of an emerging technology in a classroom environment when the technology is inaccessible to an entire population of individuals with disabilities-individuals with visual disabilities -is discrimination prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) unless those individuals are provided accommodations or modifications that permit them to receive all the educational benefits provided by the technology in an equally effective and equally integrated manner.”

It made me think.

I’ve been using video and audio in my classroom for more than a dozen years.  And we do have transcripts for all of Cornell’s eClips videos.  Hearing-impaired students can read our content and sight-impaired students can hear our content.   Still, does the technology we use in classrooms keep things out of reach for some students?

Whenever we choose to do something in our courses, it is so important to think about the access issue.