Accessibility of Education in 2007

By Marty Blair

Attention to the accessibility of educational materials has been apparent in several areas this past year. The long-awaited first version of the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) was released in August and the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC) opened its doors in December. In addition, as reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) initiatives looms in the future there is a great deal of discussion regarding NCLB implementation and other education initiatives designed to improve educational outcomes for children and youth with disabilities throughout the United States.

During 2007 the National Center on Disability and Education (NCDAE) and its affiliates will monitor a number of education-related legislative and policy issues. Included are reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind initiative, implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act regulations, implementation of NIMAS, and operation of the NIMAC. Changes in Congressional leadership that could result in stalemate disagreements with the White House are a threat to reauthorization efforts, but hopefully will not leave out children who are most vulnerable. A main focus this year will be observing implementation of NIMAS and NIMAC and other accessible education-related implementation issues, rather than monitoring legislative agendas.

Federal funding of education is always attention-grabbing. Threats of a year long continuing resolution could result in level education funding for this current school year. This could be disastrous for districts trying to improve services to the most exposed school populations. Now that the House and Senate are under the direction of the Democratic Party, it will be interesting to see how Congressional budgets differ from those of the President. Democratic leadership has declared a 100-hour agenda which includes implementation of "pay as you go" budget rules, cuts in interest rates for student loans and raising the minimum labor wage. How these will affect accessibility and educational opportunities for individuals with disabilities remains to be seen.

A 2006 initiative, School 2.0, is being promoted by the U.S. Department of Education as a means of revolutionizing educational technology applications in our nation’s schools. It is hailed as a "brainstorming tool designed to help schools, districts and communities develop a common education vision for the future and to explore how that vision can be supported by technology." To the degree that disability issues and accessibility communities are included in the brainstorming discussion, the concerns of full access for all students will be integrated. The "People Wheel" and "Learning Ecosystems" components of this tool are certainly robust enough to include all interested parties.

In the first half of this decade, much attention was given to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and its promise to set an accessibility standard in the information technology world. In federal government circles, conformance to Section 508 has gained a great deal of attention. However, its influence in other arenas has been disappointing. NCDAE is representing education issues and concerns on the committee appointed by the Access Board to refresh Section 508 and the Telecommunications Act (see teitac.org)

Many in the education community are monitoring these various issues. We will continue to work together to improve legislative and policy initiatives to ensure that children of all ages with disabilities have full access to electronically-mediated education.