Denver public schools_DCIS Montbello

A student raises her hand at DCIS Montbello during a reading assignment in a classroom at the Denver school in May.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and three other senators have co-sponsored a bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to develop guidelines for ensuring that students with disabilities can access instructional materials in higher education.

The AIM HIGH Act, first introduced in 2014, followed a 2011 report from the Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities. Data from the time suggested that around 30% of post-secondary students had a learning disability, 7% had a mobility impairment, 3% were visually impaired and 2.5% had a traumatic brain injury.

The commission found that of the 262,000 titles on shelves in college bookstores, “only a small percentage” were available in an accessible digital form. Accessible materials include traditional alternatives, such as books in Braille, or digital materials that include the ability to modify font size and employ text-to-speech. Even so, the report found that the subjects of science, technology, engineering and math were “a long way away from having generally accepted methods to follow for delivering content accessibly.”

Music education can also pose barriers. At a 2015 conference for the Association of Higher Education and Disabilities, a participant spoke of a college music major who was visually impaired.

“She's only newly blind so she is not even really that familiar with screen-reading technology, with Braille. She's learning these two things and apparently you have to know how to use both of these before you get into music,” the participant said.

The proposed Senate legislation would establish a commission to generate guidelines for spreading the use of accessible instructional materials.

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