While it’s now routine for higher-education institutions to provide physical accommodations to ensure disabled access, such as ramps and automatic doors, new barriers are being found in digital course materials, websites, and learning platforms, leading to lawsuits brought by disability groups and remedial actions ordered by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Advocacy groups are working to ensure that the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and similar antidiscrimination laws are interpreted to apply to learning technologies that didn’t exist when the law was signed more than a quarter century ago. They’re also hoping for movement on proposed new DOJ rules governing how all public entities, including public colleges and universities, offer their services online.
The University of California, Berkeley, was found in violation of the ADA because much of its free audio and video content posted online lacked captions that would make it accessible to deaf students. Last month, Miami University, Oxford, OH, agreed to retool its accessibility policies as part of a settlement with a blind student who’d sued over inaccessible course materials and a lack of trained assistants.
Those and similar cases exemplify what the National Federation of the Blind characterizes as a school-by-school approach to protecting students with disabilities from being left behind by the digitization of higher ed.