In our present-day education system, technology is an essential, incomparable learning tool for students at all grade levels; and thus, the importance of its accessibility to each and every student cannot be overstated. However, some educational organizations around the United States have failed to provide user-friendly websites to people with disabilities, and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) under the Obama Administration took notice.
In the last year alone, OCR investigated over 350 schools districts for violations of website accessibility for individuals with disabilities. The OCR resolved the complaints against eleven educational organizations in seven states and one territory for these violations. These investigations were prompted by complaints that these organizations’ websites did not comply with the Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the American with Disabilities Act of 1990. In a nut shell, these regulations, which apply to online services and programs, prohibit discrimination of people on the basis their disability and ensures that communications with people with disability are as effective as communications with those without a disability.
Ultimately, the OCR reached resolution agreements with all eleven educational organizations because they all voluntarily agreed to resolve these issues.
Under the Trump Administration, it is unclear whether web accessibility is an area that is likely to see much change as compared to other areas of civil rights enforcement. While significant legal or policy changes remain uncertain, educational organizations need to continue to remain proactive in ensuring that everyone has equal accessibility to their websites and online content because resolution agreements, the remedies for violations, can be costly and complicated. Moreover, hundreds of complaints are currently pending.
In order to avoid any potential investigation by OCR on this matter, it is crucial that all educational organizations ensure that they are not inadvertently excluding people with disabilities from online programs and services. Below is a list of suggestions that educational organizations can implement to help to ensure their websites meet federal standards:
- Select an auditor who has the requisite knowledge and experience to audit content and functionality and identify barriers to access on the existing website for people with disabilities;
- Conduct a thorough audit of existing online content and functionality;
- Adopt policies and procedures to ensure that all new, newly added or modified online content and functionality will be accessible to people with disabilities;
- Make all new website content and functionality accessible to people with disabilities;
- Develop a corrective action plan to prioritize the removal of online barriers;
- Identify an individual to contact and provide information to report accessibility barriers; and
- Provide website accessibility training to all appropriate personnel.