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New Jersey lawyer focusing on special education law and employment law

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Technology Accessibility in Schools

On May 26, 2011, the U.S. Department of Education published two “Dear Colleague” letters (here and here) and a FAQ on accessible technologies to all K-12 school districts, colleges, and universities.

Accessible technology is an important topic since many K-12 schools, colleges, and universities are transitioning towards “e-books” (electronic book readers), and some of these e-books are not accessible to students who are visually impaired or mobility impaired. Likewise, schools that deploy web applications on their websites may not be accessible to visually impaired students. As schools transition to e-books and other emerging technologies, it is important that school personnel provide equal educational opportunities to students with disabilities.

The “Dear Colleague” letter to the K-12 schools is similar to the “Dear Colleague” letter sent to colleges and universities. Both letters reference a “Dear Colleague” letter that was previously sent in June 29, 2010, which explained the importance of providing equal educational opportunities to students with disabilities:

The [Dear Colleague Letter of June 29, 2010] explains that under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, educational institutions cannot require the use of electronic book readers in a classroom setting if the readers are not fully accessible to individuals with disabilities, including individuals who are blind or have low vision, unless those individuals are provided accommodations or modifications that permit them to receive all the educational benefits provided by the technology in an equally effective and equally integrated manner. (Emphasis added.)

The FAQ explains that the “Dear Colleague” letters on accessible technology and e-books do not impose any additional requirements on K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. Rather, these letters are clear reminders that K-12 schools, colleges, and universities must comply with federal anti-discrimination laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974.

These “Dear Colleague” letters stress that school personnel need to be familiar with federal anti-discrimination laws and know when to develop individualized accommodations and modifications for students with disabilities. If you know of a student who is not being provided equal educational opportunities due to inaccessible technology, you may wish to consult an attorney to evaluate your options.

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