Why Does Accessibility Matter?

As educators, we build various teaching tools and information about our subject matter into our courses because we think it is important to our students’ learning. It follows that we would want all of our students, including those with disabilities, to have access to these tools, information and materials. In the United States, we are also governed by two federal laws that require program access and accessible courses: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. In New York, we are also bound by the accessibility guidelines pertaining to technology included within Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. As you create materials for your online course, ensure that they are in line with these standards and guidelines. Conforming to these standards will benefit students with disabilities, and will help all of your students to access and use the content of your online course.

When making course content accessible, it benefits all learners. We must creating path, so that all learners can succeed. There are ethical and pedagogical reasons why accessibility matters, but this is a reminder of the legal reasons why accessibility matters.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, State and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. It also applies to the United States Congress. To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability or have a relationship or association with an individual with a disability. An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.
  • Title II: State and Local Government Activities – covers all activities of State and local governments regardless of the government entity’s size or receipt of Federal funding. Title II requires that State and local governments give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities (e.g. public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings).
  • Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – The Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies, in programs receiving Federal financial assistance, in Federal employment, and in the employment practices of Federal contractors. The standards for determining employment discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act are the same as those used in title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
    • Section 504: “No qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under” any program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance or is conducted by any Executive agency or the USPS.
    • Section 508: Establishes requirements for electronic and information technologies developed, maintained, procured or used by the Federal government.
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