EDUCAUSE-Supported Accessible Instructional Materials Bill Reintroduced in House

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(March 31, 2017 – Jarret Cummings) Congressmen Phil Roe (R-TN) and Joe Courtney (D-CT) reintroduced the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education (AIM HIGH) Act in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, March 29th. The bill reflects modest edits from the version introduced last fall, as well as a new acronym, but it remains essentially the same as the original I described in my September Policy Spotlight post.

If enacted, the bill would establish a commission of representatives from major stakeholder communities (including higher education) to develop voluntary accessibility guidelines for postsecondary instructional materials and related technologies. The commission would also leverage its work on the guidelines to create a list of general IT accessibility standards that would be annotated to clarify their relevance to different aspects of higher education IT. To ensure a consensus-based approach, seventy-five percent (75%) of the commission members would need to approve the release of either resource. The bill would incentivize institutional adoption of the guidelines by providing a legal safe harbor for use of materials and technologies that fully conform with the guidelines. In addition, institutions could make use of a limited safe harbor, which would lessen potential financial penalties from accessibility lawsuits when the institution documents the relevant content or technology decision in line with the Act’s provisions. (For more complete details, please see the post referenced above.)

The bill now awaits consideration by the House Education and the Workforce Committee. In addition to EDUCAUSE, the bill enjoys the support of the National Federation of the Blind, the American Council on Education, the Association of American Publishers, and the Software and Information Industry Association. Five members of the House in addition to Reps. Roe and Courtney have already become legislative co-sponsors, and it is expected to receive the support of the other disability and higher education groups that endorsed it last fall.

A companion version of AIM HIGH has not yet been introduced in the U.S. Senate, but talks with potential Senate sponsors are ongoing. It remains likely that the bill will ultimately be incorporated into the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), which provides the primary framework for the nation’s higher education policy and related programs (e.g., federal student aid). EDUCAUSE staff will continue to work with other stakeholder groups to encourage passage of the bill, as well as to keep members informed about its progress.

Jarret Cummings is the Director of Policy and Government Relations for EDUCAUSE.