Learn More About the Importance of Accessibility
‘Accessible’ means a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally effective and equally integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use.
- (US-DOJ Resolution Agreement. 11-11-6002)
Ensuring the accessibility of Electronic Information Technologies (EIT) is about equal “opportunity”, that is, removing barriers to opportunities for persons with disabilities. Several laws spell out our responsibilities in the area of EIT, including the The Americans with Disabilities Act (External Site) and the Rehabilitation Act (External Site). The same laws that ensure access to buildings for persons with disabilities also apply to EIT resources and services. In addition, the University of Maine System, in its Diversity for the 21st Century strategy, has committed to enhancing diversity and access to all persons regardless of differences and recognizes this not only as a legal and moral imperative but also as a critical component of our own institutional, community and state progress.
In recent years, the Federal Departments of Education and Justice, and private entities, have used the courts to vigorously enforce accessibility law as it applies to technology in higher education. These entities are particularly focused on emerging technology, online education and electronic materials.
Accessibility for the University of Maine System
The University of Maine System Board of Trustees states that the University of Maine System (UMS) will not discriminate based on disability, the University of Maine System has a formal procedure for submitting and investigating Equal Opportunity complaints, and the University of Maine System has recently published an Administrative Practice Letter for Information and Communication Technology Accessibility with specific guidance and responsibilities.
Any member of the university community (faculty, staff or student) who acquires, incorporates, or produces Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) or materials, related to university programs, opportunities or activities, is responsible for ensuring that such technologies and/or materials are accessible to persons with disabilities, unless exempted under this letter.
The quote from a Department of Justice settlement agreement (at the top of this page) sets the general standard for accessible Electronic Information Technology (EIT). Small errors can create large issues for accessibility, so always double check your work and review materials thoroughly.
Historical context: The “Dear Colleague” letter.
There are many resources and important historical documents available to provide guidance as to your responsibilities in selecting and providing accessible EIT. An example that comes up frequently in accessibility is the “Dear Colleague” letter. Learn more about “Dear Colleague”:
- The 2010 Department of Education “Dear Colleague” letter (External Site) and related Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) (External Site) answer many questions related to your EIT accessibility responsibilities. While the letter was framed by concerns over the use of Electronic Book Readers, its guidelines apply to—and have been used for—all EIT and especially “emerging” technologies that often neglect accessibility requirements.
- Section 508 (External Site) of the Rehabilitation Act applies to US Federal agencies but provides guidance for everyone.
Examples of Questions from the Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) FAQ that may help in understanding the importance of accessibility:
- Does the DCL apply to all school operations and all faculty and staff?
- Does the DCL apply when planning to use an emerging technology in a class or school where no students with visual impairments are currently enrolled?
- Does the DCL apply to pilot programs or other school programs that are of short duration?
- Does the DCL apply beyond electronic book readers to other forms of emerging technology?
The answer to all these questions is yes. Take a look at the FAQ to see all the questions and answers (External PDF).
Get Help Now
If you have any questions about what constitutes an accessible technology please contact your campus disability services staff or email to accessibleIT@maine.edu