Academic journal article Information Technology and Disabilities

From Policy to Practice: Achieving Equitable Access to Educational Technology

Academic journal article Information Technology and Disabilities

From Policy to Practice: Achieving Equitable Access to Educational Technology

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 empowers individuals with disabilities to be employed and included in society and prohibits discrimination. In 1998 the act was amended and strengthened by adding provisions covering access to electronic and information technology. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act "requires access to the Federal government's electronic and information technology." (Architectural and Transportation Compliance Board, 2001, The Law: Section 508, para. 2) Section 508 also details standards for accessibility of technology and technology-based products. Although these standards were originally designed for federal government agencies, some state legislatures and local agencies have subsequently required compliance with Section 508. Specifically, this federal legislation has prompted education agencies to consider access within the educational environment. For example, Maryland passed legislation that would provide the same access to technology-based instructional materials for students with disabilities as those their peers' use. MAR*TEC was asked by the state of Maryland to assist in the implementation of its forward-looking decision. Specifically, MAR*TEC considered the evaluation of instructional software. This article describes the adoption at the federal and state levels of Section 508 and summarizes the legislative background and responses of a number of states. It surveys K-12 implementation and takes an in-depth look at Maryland's approach to educational technology access. Special attention is paid to MAR*TEC's response to Maryland's challenge--the development of an online toolkit for instructional software evaluations. A concluding section provides the rationale for a cohesive national approach to implementation of Section 508.

SECTION 508--FEDERAL ADOPTION

Section 508 requires government agencies to follow principles of accessibility in their procurement of electronic and information technology. Waddell explains this marketplace incentive: "By using the power of the federal purse, Section 508 seeks to drive accessibility into the design of the electronic and information technology." (Waddell, 2003, webcast) Section 508 requires that vendors design access features or compatibility with assistive technology in their computers, software, copier machines, fax machines, and other information technology equipment in order to sell products to the federal government. Section 508 provides specific incentives to accessible or universal design such as mandates for federal agencies, technical assistance to aid compliance, and clear standards of what constitutes compliance with respect to all major categories of electronic and information technology (E&IT).

Examples of what Section 508 means to Americans with disabilities include finding accessible information kiosks at national parks, purchasing stamps online from the United States Postal Service, and finding accessible tax information online at http://www.irs.gov.

The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 called on the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (commonly referred to as the 'Access Board') to confer with all appropriate federal agencies, the electronic and information technology industry, and other public or nonprofit agencies or organizations, including organizations representing individuals with disabilities to issue and publish standards. The standards are highly detailed and can be found at http://www.access-board.gov/sec508/508standards.htm. The standards summarize accessibility requirements and are useful to those creating technology as well as those purchasing it. For instance Section 508 requires that:

Software shall not use flashing or blinking text, objects, or other elements having a flash or blink frequency greater than 2 Hz and lower than 55 Hz.

Web pages shall be designed so that all information conveyed with color is also available without color, for example from context or markup. …

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