News and Reports

Managing Digital Accessibility at Universities during the COVID‑19 Pandemic

By Dr. Jonathan Lazar

January 19, 2021

Dr. Jonathan Lazar, professor in the College of Information Studies (iSchool) at the University of Maryland, interviewed directors of digital accessibility at three US universities to understand barriers and mechanisms related to digital accessibility. The interviews took place before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, offering insight into changes that occurred for universities that were addressing digital accessibility during the pandemic, and advice for future pandemics.

The Law and Accessible Texts: Reconciling Civil Rights and Copyrights

By Brandon Butler, Prue Adler, Krista Cox

July 8, 2019

This report informs how to create, manage and store accessible texts, or texts in formats that meet the needs of users with disabilities. It provides a concise, up-to-date summary of the two key legal pressures that bear on the creation and sharing of accessible texts: the civil rights laws that require creation and distribution of accessible texts by institutes of higher education to ensure equitable access to information, and the copyright laws that are sometimes misperceived as barriers to that effort. Concern that these legal regimes may be in tension contributes to inefficiency in making and sharing accessible texts. Reconciling the mandates of copyright and civil rights clears the way for dramatic improvements in service that both vindicate civil rights and serve the First Amendment values that animate copyright.

Accommodations and Academic Performance: First-Year University Students with Disabilities

By Jeanetter Parsons, Andrea Martin, Mary Ann McColl, David Rynard

March 23, 2021

A study of students with disabilities and students with no disabilities at an Ontario university concluded that having a disability significantly affects higher education academic performance for many students. The study found that some university accommodations – like note-taking support or using a calculator during exams – are associated with poorer academic performance. Losing accommodations as students transition from high school to university is correlated with a lower GPA. The study’s authors recommend that universities collect and use high school accommodation information to calibrate learning supports for students with disabilities.

Influencers with Disabilities Tell their Stories on TikTok

May 17, 2021

Creators with disabilities are using TikTok to tell their stories on their own terms, as reported by ABC News and the Washington Post. Ignored or pigeonholed into acting roles that play disabilities for laughs, these creators with disabilities are building audiences and crafting a narrative that does not look away from disability. “If film is the only place that you can access or you have seen a disabled person, and that story becomes the only narrative that you learn about, it carries so much more weight in shaping your understanding of what disability might be like,” said Alyson Patsavas, Ph.D. and co-producer of “Code of the Freaks,” a film that addresses how Hollywood treats disability in movies.

Survey Reveals Concerns of Parents of Kids with Disabilities

April 2021

An April 2021 survey reveals that parents of children with disabilities are concerned that their children have lost a year of studies and will never catch up. 44% of parents who have an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) to ensure an equitable education for their child with learning and thinking differences report that not all accommodations are being met this school year, even though school districts have a legal obligation to do so. 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 14 percent of all public school students received special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) in the 2018-19 school year. Under IDEA, all eligible students with disabilities are entitled to a free appropriate public education that conforms with an IEP. But distance learning during COVID presented difficulties in delivering the services specified in IEPs.

Students with disabilities usually receive remedial education to make up for the achievement gap, in which students with disabilities generally score lower on math and reading tests than students without disabilities. Parents and advocates are concerned that the pandemic will accelerate this learning gap.

Two Senators have asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine state IDEA eligibility criteria and inequities in access to IDEA services for infants and toddlers, with a goal of providing early intervention services to infants and toddlers with disabilities.

Education in a Pandemic

June 8, 2021

A new report by the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights responded to President Biden’s  Executive Order on Supporting the Reopening and Continuing Operation of Schools and Early Childhood Education Providers, particularly the call to the e Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Department of Education: [T]o deliver a report as soon as practicable on the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on students in elementary, secondary, and higher education, including those attending historically black colleges and universities, and Tribal colleges and universities, Hispanic serving institutions, and other minority-serving institutions.

The report includes eleven observations about the inequitable effects of the pandemic on students in the US, including the following: “Students with disabilities in higher education are facing significant hardships and other barriers due to COVID-19, threatening their access to education, including through remote learning, and basic necessities.” The report notes that nationwide, about 19 percent of students enrolled as undergraduates have some form of disability, and that many of these students experienced barriers to learning during the pandemic. For instance, 63 percent of students with disabilities reported unexpected expenses for technology as a result of the pandemic, compared to 17 percent of students surveyed without disabilities. The report recommends ensuring inclusion by offering disability-related accommodations like captioning videos and making reading materials accessible.

Preprint: Improving the Accessibility of Scientific Documents

April 30, 2021

This study finds that most academic papers are inaccessible for researchers who are blind or have low vision, who have significant challenges reading and interacting with these papers. The authors introduce a new system to render 1.5 million open access scientific papers in an accessible HTML format. This Medium post describes the authors’ motivations and findings.

Open but Not for All: A Survey of Open Education Resource Librarians on Accessibility

July 2021

A survey of 200 academic librarians who work with open education resources (OERs)  to understand their perceived knowledge of accessibility and practices to make OERs accessible revealed that accessibility is still an emerging area of focus for librarians. The report notes that there may be opportunities for research libraries to ensure that OERs in their collections and used by their faculty are accessible.

Accessible Digital Documentary Heritage: Guidelines for the Preparation of Documentary Heritage in Accessible Formats for Persons with Disabilities


December 2020

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published guidelines for librarians, archivists, curators, and others to ensure that digitized cultural heritage documents are accessible. The guidelines draw on United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the 2015 UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Preservation of, and Access to, Documentary Heritage Including in Digital Form.

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