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Key Points: AIM Commission Final Report

As announced last week, the Postsecondary Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) Commission (http://www2.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/aim/index.html) has issued its final report to Congress (http://www2.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/aim/publications.html). The full list of recommendations follows my comments below; it illustrates the report’s scope, which encompasses the full context of instructional materials accessibility in postsecondary education, from relevant laws and regulations to technology developments and market factors affecting students and institutions as they seek to meet AIM needs.

In reviewing the commission’s last working draft prior to its final report, I highlighted three recommendations of particular interest to the higher education IT community (http://www.educause.edu/node/238431). The final form of those recommendations, along with my analysis of them, is as follows:

  • Recommendation 1 (U.S. Access Board): Congress should authorize the United States Access Board to establish guidelines for accessible instructional materials that will be used by government, in the private sector, and in postsecondary academic settings.
    • As expected, the commission removed any reference to “enforcement provisions” from this recommendation in light of what it learned about the Access Board’s role—namely that the board develops accessibility standards for adoption and enforcement by federal agencies, but that it has no enforcement powers or mechanisms itself.
    • In discussing the recommendation, the report notes that the Access Board’s current process of updating the accessibility guidelines for technology deployed and used by the federal government (mandated by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and thus commonly known as the Section 508 guidelines) positions the board well to develop guidelines for postsecondary instructional materials as well. This is because the Section 508 “refresh” process is intended to harmonize Section 508 standards for web accessibility with the latest version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) (http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag.php) of the international standards body for the Web, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) (http://www.w3.org/).
    • The Access Board released draft revisions to the Section 508 guidelines for public comment on December 8; they are available at http://www.access-board.gov/news/ict-draft-rule.htm.
  • Recommendation 4 (Market Capacity): If the postsecondary marketplace—producers of instructional materials and delivery systems and institutions of higher education—does not adequately provide AIM for students with print disabilities, Congress should consider appropriate legislation to better address these shortcomings.
    • Identified as Recommendation 3 in the last working draft prior to the final report, this recommendation included at various times throughout the process a call for a “private right of action” that would give students with disabilities the right to sue AIM providers, including the hardware and software companies through whose products digital instructional materials are developed and delivered, for supplying the postsecondary market place with inaccessible instructional materials.
    • The possible private right of action provision was a source of great controversy throughout the commission proceedings. Representatives of disability rights advocacy organizations strongly supported it as essential to driving real progress in the provision of AIM to the postsecondary market. However, representatives of the publishing industry strenuously argued that the provision, if ever incorporated into law by Congress, would create such liability concerns that it might lead publishers to significantly pull back from the postsecondary market in general.
    • From the higher education standpoint, a private right of action in this context would get colleges and universities out of the middle of the AIM debate at least in part by allowing students to sue the providers of inaccessible instructional materials, instead of suing or bringing civil rights complaints against higher education institutions for adopting inaccessible materials as a way of getting them to put pressure on content and technology providers to improve the accessibility of their products.
    • In the end, though, the divergence of views among commission members on this point appears to have been too great to overcome, since any reference to a private right of action has been dropped from the final report.
    • The commission did introduce a new provision to this recommendation in its final report, though. It called for Congress to review the status of the postsecondary instructional materials market place in three years to see if the problems the commission perceives in the supply of AIM to students and institutions persist. If that proves to be the case, it is probably safe to assume that disability rights advocates will push for Congress to include a private right of action among the possible remedies.
  • Recommendation 12 (Faculty/Staff Awareness and Capacity Building): The Commission recommends that federally sponsored projects and programs encourage and support systemic faculty and staff professional development with respect to selection, production and delivery of high-quality AIM to meet the needs of students with disabilities in postsecondary settings.
    • In its last incarnation prior to the final report, when it was identified in the previous working draft as Recommendation 10, this recommendation included strong language about tying institutional eligibility to “federal grant monies” to institutional efforts to “aggressively educate” faculty, staff, administrators, and students about AIM issues and requirements.
    • However, I noted in my review of the transcript from the commission’s public meeting to discuss the previous working draft that commission members were considering whether to divide the recommendation into multiple recommendations. One of the options mentioned at that time was a recommendation that the U.S. Department of Education incorporate faculty and staff professional development on instructional materials accessibility into the capacity-building requirements of its grant programs.
    • The commission appears to have refocused the overall recommendation on that approach while expanding it to include federally sponsored institutional and research grants generally. Whether Congress or federal agencies will ultimately mandate that step remains to be seen. However, in its explanation of the recommendation, the commission again encourages colleges and universities to use the Section 508 guidelines as a reference point in developing federal grant proposals that might relate to postsecondary instructional materials, both in terms of their development as well as their procurement.
    • Also, while the commission pulled references to possible federal mandates for institution-wide accessibility education requirements from the recommendation, it advocated for institutions to implement such requirements themselves in the supporting text:
      • “In addition, every postsecondary institution should offer a mandatory system-wide orientation for faculty, staff, teaching assistants and administrators concerning strategies for ensuring accessibility in all aspects of the education enterprise, including readings, courseware and instructional technology, assessments and instructor-made materials. Consideration should be given to establishing institutional benchmarks for proficiency in disability awareness and responsiveness to the need for AIM.”

 

Recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities

The Access Board

1.  Congress should authorize the United States Access Board to establish guidelines for accessible instructional materials that will be used by government, in the private sector, and in postsecondary academic settings.

Section 121 of the Copyright Act (Chafee Amendment)

2.  Congress should review the scope, effectiveness and function of the Copyright Act as amended (Section 121, the Chafee Amendment) to determine whether it or any of its key component elements, as well as its implementation through applicable regulations, need to be updated to adequately address the needs of individuals with print disabilities, including those enrolled in postsecondary education.

Disability Documentation

3.  The Commission recommends that the Department of Education and the Department of Justice consider whether to provide additional guidance on legal requirements concerning postsecondary institutions’ policies and procedures regarding documentation of disability under Title II and Title III of the ADA and according to Section 504, to reduce the barriers currently presented by some institutions’ requirements for documentation of disability.

Market Capacity

4.  If the postsecondary marketplace—producers of instructional materials and delivery systems and institutions of higher education—does not adequately provide AIM for students with print disabilities, Congress should consider appropriate legislation to better address these shortcomings.

Market Incentives

5.  Congress should consider incentives to accelerate innovation in accessibility by publishers and producers of course materials, hardware and software by offering support and incentives for the production, sale and consumption of accessible instructional materials and delivery systems.

Licensing

6.  Congress should consider means to encourage authors, publishers, producers and other content providers to collaborate with a range of organizations, including postsecondary institutions and alternate media producers, in developing cost-effective licensing models for the production and delivery of AIM.

No National Format or Centralized Repository

7.  The Commission does not recommend a single file format solution similar to the (K–12) National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) nor a single centralized clearinghouse, file sharing network, or national repository similar to the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC).  The Commission recommends that postsecondary students with print disabilities would be best served by explicit support for a wide variety and range of different options and suppliers.

Metadata

8.  The Commission recommends that publishers, distributors, content producers and AMPs facilitate the distribution of new AIM products by including accessibility metadata used for marketing and discovery.  Also, standards organizations are encouraged to incorporate and further develop accessibility specifications in their domains based on a common list of accessibility-focused metadata.

Federated Search

9.  The Commission supports the development of federated search capabilities that enable individual students and DR/S offices to make a single online search to locate existing accessible resources.

Accessibility Support in Authoring Tools

10.  The Commission recommends that producers of courseware management systems, web development software, content authoring software, word processors and layout programs, among others, be encouraged to create accessibility wizards and prompts that launch validation processes to inspect materials for accessibility as they are created and before they are distributed to students.

Digital Rights Management

11.  The Commission recommends that content producers, producers of software applications, supporting device manufacturers, producers of digital content, providers and producers of software applications and their Digital Rights Management (DRM) suppliers should ensure that accessible versions of both materials and delivery systems using DRM are made available without harming publishers’ established and emerging distribution channels.

Faculty/Staff Awareness and Capacity Building

12.  The Commission recommends that federally sponsored projects and programs encourage and support systemic faculty and staff professional development with respect to selection, production and delivery of high-quality AIM to meet the needs of students with disabilities in postsecondary settings.

Cross-Agency Collaboration

13.  The Commission recommends that the Department of Education re-establish an intra-agency working group on postsecondary students with disabilities and also create a cross-agency working group to provide a more unified and consistent approach to federal initiatives regarding the provision of AIM at postsecondary institutions.

Low-Incidence/High Cost Materials

14.  The Commission recommends that the federal government support the creation and sharing of both embossed and digital braille as well as tactile graphics materials in postsecondary settings, particularly for STEM, foreign language and music.

Captioning

15.  The Commission recommends that producers of instructional materials for the postsecondary education market (including postsecondary institutions themselves) that incorporate synchronized audio and visual formats (VHS tapes, DVDs/CDs, video, web video, etc.) should provide closed captions or subtitles for the Deaf/hard of hearing (SDH).

Campus-Wide  Exemplar Project

16.  The Commission recommends that Congress appropriate funds to the Department of Education for the development of a discretionary priority to fund model demonstration projects designed to identify, validate and disseminate project results regarding best practices in the provision of AIM as part of a project candidate’s campus-wide delivery system for auxiliary aids and services.  The purpose of the demonstration projects will be to develop best practice models for implementing AIM and its delivery systems campus-wide.

Science, Technology, Engineering,
Mathematics (STEM)

17.  The Commission recommends that Congress appropriate funds to the Department of Education to support faculty professional development demonstration projects to develop and validate effective practices in the creation and provision of universally designed instructional materials in STEM courses and laboratory classes.

Access to Accessible Instructional
Materials

18.  The Commission recommends that the Department of Education fund postsecondary demonstration projects that model how to improve the quality, efficiency and timeliness of the acquisition and provision of AIM in postsecondary education and reduce duplication of effort in accordance with Section 773 of the HEOA.

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