Wednesday, September 30, 2020
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US announces school web accessibility agreement

Some public schools have websites with content that is inaccessible to people with certain disabilities. Although schools certainly try to make websites accessible, the quality of that compliance is widely varied across the country, and the US Education Department announced settlements in 11 cases last week with school districts that have not measured up in terms of allowing people with certain disabilities to access the information published by schools.

The Office for Civil Rights at the department announced on June 29 that it has reached settlements with education organizations in seven states and one territory to ensure website accessibility for people with disabilities.

OCR had received complaints involving each of the organizations, resulting in investigations. But before OCR had completed its probes, each of the 11 parties expressed interest in resolving their cases voluntarily, resulting in the agreements announced today. The settlements involved: Juneau, Alaska, School District; the Guam Department of Education; Montana School for the Deaf and Blind; Santa Fe, New Mexico, Public Schools; Washoe County, Nevada, School District; The Davidson Academy of Nevada; Nevada Department of Education; Oregon Department of Education; Granite, Utah, School District; Bellingham, Washington, School District; and the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“As schools, school districts, states, and territories turn to the internet as a way to provide relevant and up-to-date information to their audiences in a cost-effective manner, they must make sure they are not inadvertently excluding people with disabilities from their online programs, services, and activities,” said Catherine E Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights. “I applaud each of these signatories who have committed to ensuring that their websites are accessible to people with disabilities.”

The agreements cover issues raised under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to online services and programs.

OCR investigations found that on all 11 websites important images were missing text descriptions, called “alt tags,” that describe the images to blind and low-vision users who use special software. Common problems affecting many of the websites included:

  • Some important content of the website could only be accessed by people who can use a computer mouse, which meant that content was not available to those who are blind, many who have low-vision, and those with disabilities affecting fine motor control
  • Parts of the website used color combinations that made text difficult or impossible for people with low vision to see
  • Videos were not accurately captioned, so they were inaccessible to people who are deaf

The 11 education groups voluntarily committed to make their websites accessible through a range of actions, which require OCR review and approval at key stages, including:

  • Affirming their commitment to ensuring that people with disabilities have opportunities equal to those of others to enjoy the recipients’ programs, services, and activities, including those delivered online
  • Selecting 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
  • Conducting a thorough audit of existing online content and functionality
  • Adopting policies and procedures to ensure that all new, newly added or modified online content and functionality will be accessible to people with disabilities
  • Making all new website content and functionality accessible to people with disabilities
  • Developing a corrective action plan to prioritize the removal of online barriers
  • Posting a notice to persons with disabilities about how to request access to online information or functionality that is currently inaccessible
  • Providing website accessibility training to all appropriate personnel

OCR’s mission is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. OCR is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination by educational institutions on the bases of disability, race, color, national origin, sex, and age, as well as the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act of 2001.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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