Just when it seemed that OCR had its hands full directing districts on transgender students, a new issue has emerged on OCR’s radar in recent months.
Spurred by close to 400 complaints filed by education advocate Marcie Lipsitt against public educational entities across the country, OCR has found itself tackling allegations that school district web sites are not accessible to those with disabilities.
The complaints are rooted in a seemingly straight-forward precept, but one that might often be overlooked. Specifically, a school’s digital resources must be accessible to users who have physical, sensory, cognitive, or learning disabilities; such accessibility applies to a school’s public-facing website, so as not to discourage or prevent disabled students or employees from utilizing the online resources. The complaints filed with OCR allege that the school district web sites run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 because certain pages are not accessible to these individuals.
Generally, in investigating these institutions, OCR has found the following web design issues that made the sites inaccessible or only partially accessible to disabled users:
- Videos without closed captions
- Images without Alt text markup
- Website features or structure that was not navigable by keyword — a necessary function for people who are blind, low-vision, or have limited dexterity.
- Poor color contrast for text, making it illegible for some
Based on available data, most of the complaints are being resolved with voluntary resolution agreements between the school districts and OCR (called “302 Agreements” in OCR parlance). These agreements generally consist of two parts: (1) Assurances of Nondiscrimination, a written commitment to making and maintaining an accessible web presence, and (2) Benchmarks for Measuring Accessibility, a written commitment to a set of technical accessibility standards. The agreements typically detail the process for complying with the laws, starting with an audit of existing web content and an adoption of an official web accessibility policy. School districts are often required to implement an OCR-approved process for ensuring new content is accessible and a plan for remediating content deemed inaccessible during the audit.
While these complaints seemingly have caught many school districts, as well as OCR, off-guard, there is a path forward, likely through a resolution agreement. If OCR is yet to bring its scrutiny to your web site, there are steps that can be taken to review your site for accessibility compliance. In this regard, there are a number of resources available online to help with testing and remediating websites and documents: