The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Education that focuses on protecting civil rights. The mission of the OCR is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through vigorous enforcement of civil rights.
The OCR serves student populations facing discrimination and the advocates and institutions promoting systemic solutions to civil rights problems.
The OCR plays a key role in resolving complaints of discrimination. The OCR enforces several Federal civil rights laws including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and Title II of the ADA which applies to State and local governments which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all services, programs, and activities provided to the public.
Failure to provide equal access to digital content for people with disabilities, is no different than failing to provide the physical accommodations – such as wheelchair ramps, elevator buttons in braille or flashing light cues – to individuals impaired by mobility, vision or auditory disabilities.
All public entities must comply with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Each state and local government’s services, activities, and programs that are provide to the public must be accessible. Even if a state and local program is not funded by or receives financial assistance from the federal government, it must still comply with ADA under Title II.
A complaint can be filed by anyone who believes that an education institution or program described above, that receives Federal financial assistance has discriminated against someone on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability or age. The person or organization filing the complaint need not be a victim of the alleged discrimination, but may complain on behalf of another person or group.
This means that an individual, group or organization can file an OCR complaint, whether they are a direct victim of the alleged discrimination.
In English: If someone sees that a school doesn’t have a wheelchair ramp, they can file an ORC complaint because a student in a wheelchair is being denied equal access to the school.
As it relates to digital accessibility, for example: if the school’s websites, public or internal facing, are not digitally accessible, a person with or without a disability, can file an OCR complaint, citing that people with disabilities, because they are being denied equal access to information as a result of the failure of the school or school district, to provide equal access to information, are being discriminated against on the basis of their disability.
This means schools and schools districts have exposure beyond the 15% - 20% of the population that has a disability; anyone can file a complaint for failure to provide equal access.
There are different requests made by the OCR when seeking to enforce civil rights laws. The following provides an overview of the steps required to conform to stipulations outlined in demand letters sent from the OCR or comply with settlement agreements established with the OCR.
- Procure Accessibility Specialist
- Provide Accessibility Support Resources for End-Users
- Establish an Audit Priority Plan
- Audit Existing Content & Functionality
- Train Resources & Establish Policies and Procedures for New Content and Functionality
- Formalize a Corrective Action Plan
- Remediate Issues and Adhere to Corrective Action Plan Schedule
For this reason, AudioEye recommends a proactive approach to remediate existing sites to a) do the right thing by granting equal access to the widest audience possible, b) comply with ADA-related digital accessibility requirements, resulting in c) risk mitigation.
Addressing, resolving and/or complying with a settlement agreement is burdensome and expensive. Failing to comply with ADA-related requirements resulting in an OCR complaint can cost four or five times more than the cost of remediating an existing site.
In 2015, the Seattle Public Schools received an OCR complaint which ended in a lawsuit that culminated in a landmark settlement agreement for which costs were estimated to exceed $800,000.
Since then, there have been hundreds of OCR complaints filed against K-12 schools and institutions of higher education, including: Harvard, MIT, Maricopa Community Colleges, Arizona State University, NYU and many, many more.
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act is a regulation which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by public entities – state or local government and any of their departments, agencies, or other instrumentalities. The Federal Government is not considered a public entity and is covered under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Learn More at: https://www.ada.gov/t2hlt95.htm