Ensuring Technology Is Accessible for All Students

Schools across the country are taking steps to improve their learning models to include emerging technologies that our nation’s young people so heavily use.  The U.S. Department of Education recognizes that this initiative will better prepare students for success in college and their careers.  Now, we must ensure that the benefits of technology serve all students.

Last week, the Department and its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) took another step toward the Obama administration’s dual goals of better serving the needs of the millions of Americans with disabilities, and increasing educational opportunities.  In two Dear Colleague Letters, one for Elementary/Secondary and one for Post Secondary, and a Frequently Asked Questions document (pdf), we explained the obligations of educational institutions that provide benefits to students through these technologies, and their responsibility to provide equal opportunity with all types of technology for students with disabilities.

This guidance serves as a follow-up to a letter OCR issued in collaboration with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice around the 20th anniversary of the ADA last summer.  In that guidance, our offices emphasized that not all electronic book readers have the functionality for students who are blind or have low vision. We notified colleges and university presidents of their obligation to provide equal opportunity to use such technology to students with disabilities or make appropriate accommodations or modifications when necessary.  Last week’s guidance stresses what information higher education institutions, as well as elementary and secondary schools, should consider upfront when deciding if technology is the best resource to provide effective instruction.

Under Secretary Duncan’s leadership, we are deeply committed to seeing that OCR enforces the rights of students, as well as the accessibility of all school programs under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Technology changes the landscape of how we interact and learn each day.  Through our collective efforts, we can ensure that all of our students are equipped to leverage it in hope of closing the achievement gap.

Read more from OCR in the original Dear Colleague Letter to higher ed institutions on the use of electronic book readers.

Russlynn Ali is the Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.