[Greater-Baltimore] First Annapolis Issue

Sharon Maneki nfbmdsm at gmail.com
Fri Jan 15 15:20:10 UTC 2021

Hello all,

Please become familiar with our Annapolis issues so that you can
participate in our zoom meetings. The meetings will be held on January 21,
26, 27, and 28.  We will let you know more particulars about the meetings
later. Read the first issue below.

*Subject:          The Accountability Act for Accessible K-12 Education*

*To:                  Members of the Maryland General Assembly*

*From:             Members of the National Federation of the Blind of

*Contact:         Sharon Maneki, Director of Legislation and Advocacy*

*National Federation of the Blind of Maryland*

*9013 Nelson Way*

*Columbia, MD 21045*

*Phone: 410-715-9596*

*Email: **nfbmdsm at gmail.com* <nfbmdsm at gmail.com>

*Date:               January 2021*


Because of COVID-19, most schools in Maryland have shifted from in-person
to virtual instruction. Blind students in grades K-12 cannot access their
educational content since local school systems use inaccessible
instructional technologies. Although federal and state laws  require the
accessibility of information and communication technology (ICT), digital
content  and services such as educational apps and websites, local school
systems and the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) have not
enforced the requirement for developers to ensure accessibility before
purchasing and implementing technologies and have not prohibited staff
members from using inaccessible materials that they find on their own.
Local school systems and MSDE have no accountability for accessibility.
Consequently, blind students are denied the opportunity to fully
participate in their education.


The Maryland General Assembly should enact legislation that provides
accountability for accessibility by both local school systems and the MSDE.
This legislation must include procurement procedures that force local
school systems to comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. There
should be a penalty for non-compliance by developers. The MSDE must
annually publicize the record of accessibility compliance by all
jurisdictions on its website. The need for action is urgent. Barriers to
full participation in education that blind students face must be


Blind students encountered accessibility problems when they were able to
have in-person instruction. However, virtual instruction necessitated by
COVID-19 has exacerbated these problems. Blind students cannot access their
instruction and digital content, complete and submit their homework,
participate in virtual class discussions, complete pop quizzes and tests,
or check their grades. In other words, inaccessible technologies shut blind
students out of their education. Additionally, blind parents and blind
teachers cannot help students who use these technologies. Federal laws such
as the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act have required elementary and secondary schools to use
accessible ICT to provide students with disabilities full and equal access
to programs. Since 2002, Maryland law has also required that online
instruction must be accessible to students with disabilities. Since these
laws have existed for decades, why does this problem remain?

Screen access software makes electronic information accessible by rendering
information in either a text-to-speech, magnified, or refreshable Braille
format. These screen access devices will work only if websites, document
formats, or other hardware and software are designed and coded to
accommodate nonvisual access. The methods for nonvisual access are well
known and well documented. The first publicly available accessibility
guidelines were published in 1995 and have been updated periodically. These
guidelines have been incorporated into Section 508 requirements of the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The law requires accessibility, and developers
already know how to provide accessibility. What is missing is
accountability and enforcement.


1.     *By ensuring accountability, the proposed legislation will prevent
local school systems and the MSDE  from overlooking or ignoring
accessibility requirements. *Making a member of the vision department part
of the local school system’s procurement team – as stipulated by this
legislation – will ensure that accessibility requirements are part of every
request for proposals for educational ICT. The legislation also requires
the MSDE to annually publish the progress of all local school systems
concerning accessibility on its website. Making this information publicly
available demonstrates that accessibility is a priority for the MSDE.
Publishing this information on the website is also a valuable
accountability tool because it allows the public to demand explanations.

2.     *The proposed legislation introduces vendor accountability at the
beginning of the procurement process.* The proposed legislation will spell
out accessibility requirements at the beginning of the procurement process
by requiring vendors to submit a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template
(VPAT) as part of their ICT proposals. The VPAT  is a document that
explains how ICT products such as software, hardware, electronic content,
and support documentation meet (conform to) the Revised Section 508
Standards for ICT accessibility. Vendors are familiar with VPATs since they
are already required by many federal government entities. Accessibility is
less expensive and more effective if it is designed during the initial
development of ICT. Thus, requiring a VPAT will help the developers in the
long run.

3.     *The proposed legislation enhances vendor accountability for
accessibility by creating consequences.* Currently, a vendor has no
incentive to comply with procurement accessibility requirements.
Strengthening the procurement law by providing for vendor penalties will
demonstrate the importance of the requirement to the vendor. Charging any
vendor to remediate the product so it contains nonvisual access components
will also save money for the local school systems. The proposed legislation
states that local school systems shall notify vendors of any access
barriers found upon a determination within eighteen months from procurement
or latest upgrade. The vendor will be required to remediate said barriers
at its own expense. Should that vendor fail to remediate the access barrier
within twelve months from the date of notice, a civil penalty shall be
applied. For the first offense, the fine shall not exceed $5,000. For a
subsequent offense, the fine shall not exceed $10,000. No vendor should
object to this requirement because it has a year to fix the problem before
any penalty is invoked. The vendor shall indemnify the local school system
for liability resulting from the use of information technology that does
not meet the nonvisual access standards. In the long run, such a penalty
will allow full accountability and enforcement of the contract while saving
local school systems money.

4.     *Precedent for a civil penalty against vendors for noncompliance
with accessibility laws already exists  in Maryland with the enactment of
HB1088/SB286 in 2018.*    Assessing a civil penalty on vendors for
noncompliance with accessibility requirements has not had a detrimental
effect on other agencies in the executive branch of government.   The
legislature should demand the same accountability for accessible education
that it demands from the rest of the executive branch.


The use of virtual instruction by local school systems has denied full and
equal participation to blind students in K-12 education. Although
accessibility to ICT is required by state and federal laws, it does not
occur because there is no accountability or enforcement by local school
systems and the MSDE. There are no consequences for vendors who fail to
deliver accessible ICT. The proposed legislation will reduce accessibility
barriers by establishing methods of enforcement and accountability. Blind
students deserve the same opportunities for full participation in education
that are afforded to non-disabled students. This legislation will fulfill
the demand that accessibility must become a reality. If blind students have
the opportunity to obtain a quality education, they will be able to become
successful tax payers and productive members of society.

*Sharon Maneki, Director of Legislation and Advocacy*
National Federation of the Blind of Maryland

The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland knows that blindness is
not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Everyday we raise
the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles
between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want;
blindness is not what holds you back.

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