The Importance of Accessible Materials in Higher Education

[Professor Smith] Okay, class. Here is the syllabus and everything you’ll need for this semester. [Narrator] Students pass out materials [Jim Brown] Um, Professor? This is all in Braille. Can I get it in print? I can’t read Braille. [Professor] Oh, yes, Jim. All of the materials this semester will be available in Braille. They’re also available on the website for the class, and there’s a computer in the computer lab available to you. And if that isn’t going to work for you, you could go to Print Material Services and get that converted for you. {Artificial JAWS voice reading the screen} [Jim] How in the world am I supposed to access the professor’s website? This computer is only accessible to someone who knows how to use JAWS without the screen on. I guess I’ll call Print Material Services. Yes, hi. I’m in Professor Smith’s class. I need to get my materials in print, and he’s only got them available in Braille. He said I have to go through you to get the print. [Worker #1] Sure, we’ll be able to get that for you. Just let me get some information from you. [Jim] Hi, yes, I called last week to get print materials for Professor Smith’s class. When will those be ready? [Worker #2] Well, you know, it looks like we have the first page done, but we’re still waiting on, you know, production of this material. I’m really sorry. It takes a while. [Jim] Right, but when will they be ready? I’m starting to fall behind in class. [Worker #2] I’m really sorry to hear that, hon, but you know, we’re doing the best that we can. [Jim] Hi. I’ve been calling once a week for this whole semester. I’m trying to get the materials for Professor Smith’s class in print. I really need those materials. The final is my last chance to pull my grade up from a D. [Worker #3] Hi Jim. We received your request. We’re still working on it, and we’ll have a response for you in a couple of weeks.
Thanks. Bye. [Jim] I wonder what this is. I didn’t order anything. It’s got my alma mater’s name on it. “Dear Mr. Brown, Enclosed you will find the print materials for Professor Smith’s class as requested. Good luck this Semester.” Oh man. I’ve got to call Karen. She was so great at helping me out by reading the Braille materials to me all that time. She’ll get a kick out of this. Hello, I’m Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. In the National Federation of the Blind, we’re concerned about the barriers that blind students continue to face in educational settings because of a lack of accessibility. Today we have the tools and the knowledge to be able to deliver to blind students equal access to materials at the same time as their sighted peers. But unfortunately in far too many classrooms, whether it be in higher education or K-12, blind students are left to wait, not just for access to printed materials, but also for access to digital content through computers, or Chromebooks, or iPads, or other technologies that are used in the classroom. The good news is that, through the National Federation of the Blind, we have a lot of experience with what to do about this, and we continue to want to be partners with educational institutions to ensure equal access for blind students in the classroom. On the other hand, we continue to protect the right of blind students to make sure that that equal access is available when students are being denied. So we have continued to seek relief for blind students in higher education that face systemic barriers in their universities and are denied access by bringing litigation against universities. In some cases we’ve been able to find really great partnerships with those universities to make equal access happen. We also work with ebook and technology vendors to make sure that their products are equally accessible, so that when universities or K-12 schools buy them they’re buying a product that is equally accessible to all students. There’s still a great need though for each of us to get involved in promoting equal access for blind students, and you can help the National Federation of the Blind by supporting our efforts by making a donation to us, or by signing our petition to support equal access in higher education in instructional materials, and learn more about the legislative and policy efforts we’re undertaking in the National Federation of the Blind to promote equal access in educational materials for all students.

1 thought on “The Importance of Accessible Materials in Higher Education”

  1. Good turning of the tables! As you know, the burden to provide accessible digital content has been on the schools, rather than the publishers. It would be great to see that legal mandate moved to the publishers by amending the federal laws. I hope NFB is moving in that direction. It is so much easier to create accessible digital print media from the original creation software, such as Adobe InDesign, than remediation once it is a PDF. We too are working on purchasing media that also has accessible versions included. Keep up the good work!

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