From U.S. Department of Education – “Settlements Reached in Seven States, One Territory to Ensure Website Accessibility for People with Disabilities”
What You Need to Know
- The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has been reaching settlement agreements with educational institutions.
- The settlement agreements are based on complaints received about the educational institution’s website accessibility.
- The focus of the complaints are centered around the Americans with Disabilities Act (Title II) and the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504).
The Educational Institutions
Listed are the eleven educational institutions that have reached settlement agreements with the Office for Civil Rights:
- Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
- Guam Department of Education
- Nevada Department of Education
- Oregon Department of Education
- Montana School for the Deaf and Blind
- The Davidson Academy of Nevada
- Santa Fe Public Schools
- Granite School District
- Bellingham School District
- Juneau School District
- Washoe County School District
About the Office for Civil Rights
The United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) statement mission is to ensure that everyone has equal access to education through their enforcement of civil rights. Individuals may file discrimination complaints to the OCR, which can lead to an investigation. The complaint process has led to the seven state educational organizations (and the U.S. territory) reaching settlement agreements with the OCR for violating Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Website Accessibility & Education
The complaints were filed because each of the educational organization’s websites had barriers on their websites impeding access for individuals with disabilities. These barriers made their websites inaccessible and led to disability discrimination. OCR reviewed the websites and found that the many common barriers. The websites were only accessible through the use of a computer mouse, included improper color combinations, and videos included inaccurate captions or were lacking captions, altogether.
How do these issues impact access and usability for end-users?
If a website is only accessible using a computer mouse, then people who use assistive technologies will not be able to navigate the website. People who are blind use screen readers to navigate and find information on websites. They navigate with the screen reader by using keyboard commands, if a site can only be accessed by a mouse, keyboard and assistive technology users won’t be able to navigate using the technology they rely on in order to interact with the digital world. Color combinations can be a barrier for people with low vision or for individuals with varying degrees of color blindness. If users are unable to differentiate between foreground text and background color, they will not be able to read page content. When videos are not accurately captioned, people who are deaf will not be able to understand the video content.
How is website accessibility linked to the ADA and Section 504?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibit discrimination on the basis of a person having a disability. The ADA applies to public entities and Section 504 applies to any organization or program that receives federal funding. Education Organizations, such as departments of education, school districts, and schools apply to both the ADA and Section 504. By having websites that are inaccessible to people with disabilities, they are discriminating.
The Settlement Agreements
When educational organizations rely on their websites to provide information and resources to students, parents, employees, and the public, the OCR is sending a statement that they need to make their websites accessible to everyone.
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The educational organizations entered into settlement agreements with the OCR, voluntarily, and, by entering into the agreements, they were not admitting guilt.
Each settlement agreement differs slightly, but most of them share common themes. As part of the settlement agreements, the educational organizations agree to making their website accessible by removing accessibility barriers. Consistently, the educational institution agrees to hire an experienced web accessibility auditor to fully assess, test, and validate their website, make new policies and procedures to ensure website content continues to be accessible, and to provide training to appropriate employees and stakeholders in website accessibility.
To have a more in-depth look at the settlement agreements with each educational institution, check out the K – 12 Education Web Accessibility Complaint Repository.