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Special Students Are Being Ignored in Edu Tech

Physically challenged people are “special” in a sense because they lack the functionality of one or more sense(s) that “normal” people often take for granted. People with disabilities are in such a physical condition, not because they chose to be that way but because they were born this way. When it comes to education, normal people are already at an advantageous position, whereas what was supposed to be a “right” for all is projected as a “privilege” for students with disabilities. Technology is available to aid students who are visually impaired or otherwise handicapped in reading, listening and comprehending contents. However, special students are often ignored in education technology simply by making the accessibility of relevant instruments complicated for them.

There has been an oversight in connecting the needs of special students with the procurement of technological devices by most institutions. This oversight has resulted in a huge gap between expectation and the reality as far as digital higher education is concerned. Hundreds of awareness campaigns and diversified interventions were carried out in the past four years within the Department of Education by the Civil Rights Office. Lawsuits were filed by advocates for the cause. All these efforts failed to equip the institutions with devices adequately to reduce this gap. A bipartisan bill, is being presently considered by the Congress which is supported by Rep. Joseph Kennedy III; Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced the Senate version of it.

Technology Equality and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act, or the TEACH Act, has widespread support from leading disability advocacy organizations and has bipartisan accommodation both in the senate and in the House. The Association of American Publishers and the National Federation of the Blind collaborated in developing this Act. Thorough study of accessibility in higher education was conducted incorporating inputs from a wide range of stakeholders and the recommendations will be implemented through the TEACH Act. It recommends the adoption of guidelines created by an independent expert agency that would let special students have access to electronic instructional materials.

Unfortunately, institutions of higher learning are not sympathetic to the cause. Surprisingly, ACE (American Council on Education) made an assertion that voluntary accessibility guidelines, as stated in the TEACH Act, creates a standard that is impossible to meet. Their assertion lacks merit because existing relevant laws ensures equal access. Moreover, ACE failed to provide objectively verifiable data to back up their position. There have been legal challenges and counter legal challenges with no solution for students with disabilities.

If education is a right for all, why is it a privilege for special students? Instead of analyzing who is legally entitled to what, our approach should be based on sympathy and common sense. The aspirations of physically disabled students are no less than that of “normal” college guys. The means to aid them in their pursuit of higher learning is available; all we need to do is to find a way that makes them easily accessible.

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