News and Reports

Managing Digital Accessibility at Universities during the COVID‑19 Pandemic

By Dr. Jonathan Lazar

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

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

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

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

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.

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