We Are…Discriminating Against Blind People?
The National Federation for the Blind filed a formal complaint against Penn State last Friday, November 12. The complaint, which was issued by the largest organization for the blind in the U.S., claimed that blind students and professors suffer “pervasive and ongoing discrimination” because of the inaccessibility of the technology available on campus.
The Federation’s main beefs are with course-management software, library catalogue, departmental websites (the Office of Disability Services website isn’t even fully accessible to blind students), and ANGEL. Blind students must use a “PDA mode” of ANGEL, which limits features and ease of use (If it’s any consolation, ANGEL and the rest of the PSU domain aren’t easy for other Penn Staters to use either). Yet, the latest version of Blackboard (the company in charge of ANGEL) software has in fact been approved by the National Federation of the Blind. Penn State’s alleged slights against blind faculty include the limited use of touchscreen keypads found in classrooms, in addition to a lack of online tool availability.
The group insisted Penn State begin to deal with the issues, suggesting hiring accessibility coordinators, conducting accessibility audits, and creating an accessibility policy. Penn State Spokesperson Annemarie Mountz said of the matter, “Issues of equity and accessibility are immensely important, and we take them very seriously.”
The complaint was filed a day after a report warning that many colleges and universities could be held liable for discrimination against the blind because of the lackluster manner in which they guarantee compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Federation seems to be using this instance as a warning for other schools.