Is Your Website Accessible to Persons with Disabilities? OCR is Watching!
The United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) has been investigating hundreds of school districts and public school academies to determine whether their websites are fully accessible to persons with disabilities, as required by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. And unfortunately, according to OCR, school websites are often found lacking. Notably, the vast majority of these website accessibility complaints have been filed by a Michigan special education advocate, not by a student (or parent) who was actually unable to access a school’s website. OCR has nevertheless investigated these complaints as if made by (or on behalf of) a student.
As part of its preliminary investigation, OCR often uses an online web accessibility tool that identifies potential violations. One such tool, which can be found at http://wave.webaim.org, identifies website accessibility “errors” based on the school’s web page address. Common issues include: 1) insufficient visual contrast, which makes it difficult for disabled viewers to read; 2) the need for a mouse to fully navigate the website; and 3) photos/symbols that are not “tagged” with a written description, which prevents visually impaired individuals using an electronic device to “read” the content.
If OCR determines after its preliminary investigation that a school’s website is not fully accessible, the school will likely be forced into a resolution agreement with OCR. In addition to requiring the school to bring its website into compliance, “website accessibility” agreements typically require creation of a website accessibility policy, commitment to ongoing training of staff, and periodic reporting to OCR to show that the school is adhering to the agreement.
To avoid the administrative burden (and legal costs) associated with responding to an OCR charge and entering into a resolution agreement, we recommend that you proactively use the WAVE tool to determine whether your school website has accessibility issues, and if so, begin work on bringing it into compliance.