Higher Ed Raises Concerns, Works with Proponents of the TEACH Act

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In September, EDUCAUSE and a number of other higher education associations released an analysis of the Technology, Equality, and Accessibility in College and Higher Education (TEACH) Act. The proposed legislation, not to be confused with the already established TEACH Act on copyright issues (see the 2009 ECAR Research Bulletin on the topic for more information), is intended to improve the accessibility of “electronic instructional materials and related technologies” for persons with disabilities. The bill attempts to do this by tasking the U.S. Access Board with developing accessibility guidelines for such materials and technologies.   

EDUCAUSE and the other higher associations involved in this discussion agree with the goal of improving accessibility for students with disabilities. Our analysis, however, finds the TEACH Act as currently drafted may not the best way to achieve that goal. Under the bill, electronic instructional materials or related technologies that did not conform to the guidelines would have to meet a new, rigid legal standard for accessibility or institutions using them would risk violating the applicable provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. This would likely raise barriers to the use of technology to support teaching and learning for all students, including those with disabilities.

Following the release of the analysis, an array of higher education associations, including EDUCAUSE, met with the bill’s primary proponents, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the Association of American Publishers (AAP), in early October to exchange views on the TEACH Act. All parties reaffirmed that they share the goal of improving accessibility in electronic instructional materials and related technologies and that voluntary guidelines established on a shared, truly collaborative basis could help advance that goal. As a result of the meeting, we collectively agreed to work together on a compromise approach to the TEACH Act, with the goal of producing a concise outline for a new proposal by early December. EDUCAUSE will keep members informed about this process as it continues to unfold, relying on member knowledge and expertise to help inform our efforts.