The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) and the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) reached an agreement on a complaint filed November 12, 2010 with the United States Department of Education, Office of Education, Office for Civil Rights. In the resolution, Penn State “agreed to continue implementing a strategy to make all electronic and information technology systems used on its campuses fully accessible to blind students, faculty, and staff.”
There are several important lessons in the agreement for UIC and other colleges and universities across the country:
- The complaint was made to set a precedence and could be made again at other colleges and universities: “The National Federation of the Blind hopes and believes that the steps that Penn State is taking will set an example for colleges and universities throughout the nation.”
- The resolution was comprehensive and impacts all campuses of the university.
- Presentations and workshops will be given to senior academic leadership, department heads and IT staff.
- Faculty and staff will be included in the IT accessibility trainings.
- It encompasses more than just Web accessibility, including IT accessibility in classrooms, campus banking, use of “clickers” (personal response systems), library services, etc.
- The agreement sets deadlines and consequences, tangible goals in order to measure success, and a grievance procedure. All of these are critical to understanding what to work toward and how to know when the University has achieved the accessibility goals.
- Some standard must be set. For UIC, we have chosen the Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act accessibility guidelines. Penn State is using WCAG 2.0 Level AA.
- Accessibility materials and training need to be developed. One of the requirements of the Penn State resolution is for them to make “a rich set of web resources” and “provide both tools and training to the webmasters.” At UIC, we have accessibility instructions and resources on this site, and trainings through ACCC.
- Just like the IITAA guidelines for procuring accessible Information Technology, Penn State is including accessibility in their procedures. Accessibility concerns need to be addressed in all new purchases of Information Technology. A university cannot wait until a contract is signed to address accessibility. Accessibility must be checked before a major purchase of IT.
This agreement will be closely scrutinized to see how Penn State responds. The agreement should be a model for improving IT accessibility at all colleges and universities.