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  • Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).

Cherry Blossoms, Accessibility and TEACH Act Redux
April 4, 2013 - 2:14pm

Tomorrow American University's Washington College of Law, Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property, inaugurates the Cherry Blossoms Conference on Federal Intellectual Property Policy: Accessibility, Copyright and New Technologies.

Peter Jaszi, long a revered leader in intellectual property law, hit the ground running with the formation of this conference in the immediate aftermath of the Georgia State decision in which the judge made a binding connection between accessibility and intellectual property law.  With the simultaneous development of MOOCs -- N.B. the "open" in the acronym -- and the news yesterday that Stanford and edX are working together on an open source platform for delivery, a resounding theme emerges around the general concept of "accessibility."

The confluence of accessibility law expanding with information technologies, intellectual property reform, and open Internet platforms for teaching and learning offers genuinely exciting developments in law, technology and higher education.  Case law connects web accessibility to the Americans with Disabilities Act; basic standards, such as section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, have become the Internet equivalent of ramps and curb cuts.  Where Congress has been both silenced and paralyzed by content owners, the courts have been more willing to tread for balance in copyright, at least as has been witnessed lately for higher education. And in the midst of a public and political opprobrium heaped onto higher education for its higher-than-inflation rise of price, MOOCs join any number of free on-line learning endeavors from MIT's posting of classes to Carnegie Mellon's Open Learning Initiative (to name just two), notwithstanding the remaining challenges regarding accreditation.   

What do these developments mean?  It is not exactly clear.  To be sure, we know that people with disabilities cannot be effectively discriminated against for the failure of new technologies to be accessible.  Among advocates, this understanding goes hand in hand with universal design and so reaches for a larger meaning and purpose that unites users in a broader concept of accessibility.  To that end, the National Federation of the Blind is drafting legislation under the TEACH Act name that would require "all" technology to be accessible; setting aside refinements of the language so to avoid an "over broad" challenge, it is probably not a coincidence that the “Technology, Equality and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act” is the same name as established copyright law amendment of 2001 designed to bring the classroom exception to copyright law in concert with distance education.  That the Stanford/edX open software platform for MOOCs rings the same bell augers well higher education by creating a delicious contrast to the closed, proprietary platforms of the for-profits, Coursera and Udacity.

Exact prescience might not be what is needed at this stage.  Remaining aware of these complementary developments and supportive of their goals might be more in order today.  And so if tomorrow you would like to hear more, here is link to a live stream:


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