IMS Guidelines for Developing
Accessible Learning Applications
version 1.0 white paper
Appendix A – Legal Issues for Accessible Distance Learning
This summary of legal issues in various countries is not intended to be exhaustive or to provide legal guidance. It is instead a resource for finding information about relevant legal requirements in countries where that information is available.
The United Nations has an Overview of International Legal Frameworks for Disability Legislation.
A number of countries have established policies on accessibility of government websites. These policies may or may not include requirements for distance learning services delivered by those governments. A list of international accessibility policies is maintained by the Web Accessibility Initiative.
Several countries have more detailed policies that specifically apply to education as described here:
Australia has a Disability Discrimination Act (1992) which applies to education. A draft is available on Australia's disability standards on education.
A summarization of Australian state-by-state regulations for accessibility of government web sites is provided by OZeWAI.
Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guarantee the basic rights and freedoms important to Canada as a free and democratic society. For more information, see the Guide to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Canadian Government has also established a Common Look and Feel for Canadian government websites, which includes accessibility provisions.
In addition, some Canadian provinces have separate disabilities legislation. See especially the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act takes effect on 1 September 2002. The Act removes the previous exemption of education from the Disability Discrimination Act (1995), ensuring that discrimination against disabled students will be unlawful. Institutions will incur additional responsibilities in 2003, with the final sections of legislation coming into effect in 2005.
This brief introduction was taken from a summary article about the United Kingdom's Special Educational Needs and Disability Act.
Policies are now in place or under consideration in several markets and jurisdictions in the United States that make accesibility a requirement for distance learning.
U.S. Federal Government Requirements
ADA and Section 504
Two Federal laws govern accessibility of education: Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (as amended in 1998). All elementary, secondary, and post-secondary educational institutions are regulated under these laws. A useful legal analysis of these requirements is provided in the California Community Colleges' Distance Education Access Guidelines.
The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights enforces these laws.
In order to ensure that its technology is accessible to its own employees and to the public, the Federal government has created regulations based on Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act which require that electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the Federal government be accessible to people with disabilities. These regulations apply to all federal purchases of technology. Requirements in Section 508 may also impact state colleges and universities, pending policy decisions from the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. For official information on Section 508 see:
U.S. State Policies
A partial list of U.S. states with accessibility requirements for government websites is maintained by the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA).
Some states have instituted additional requirements, including the following:
California Higher Education Requirements
The California Community College system has released Distance Education Access Guidelines and Alternate Media Access Guidelines. The Alternate Media Access guidelines serve as a guide for the implementation of California law AB422 requiring publishers to provide textbooks in electronic format to the three systems of higher education in California (the University of California, the California State University, and the California Community Colleges). The Distance Education Access Guidelines include a summary of legal requirements as well as access guidelines for specific modes of distance education instructional delivery. These documents and other resources are available from the High Tech Center Training Unit of the California Community Colleges.
Texas K-12 Textbook Adoptions
Texas has for several years been studying the issue of access to electronic books and educational software for students with disabilities. Two reports, one issued in 1997 and one in 1999, provide information on how educational materials can be made accessible. Texas requires publishers to provide electronic files for adopted print materials and is in the process of incorporating the U.S. Federal Section 508 requirements as an optional part of their adoption process for interactive educational software and electronic textbooks. Further information about Texas textbook accessibility is available from the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.