Website Accessibility Complaints and You!

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As if the daily challenges associated with delivering exceptional educational experiences for students weren’t enough, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has recently been investigating school district compliance in an area that most people don’t think about often – website accessibility.

Spurred by more than 400 complaints filed by a Michigan-based advocate 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 websites 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

The implications are significant. OCR is examining not only the home and main pages of school district websites, but any pages that are linked from school district websites. In many cases, this includes school websites and even teacher classroom sites. These resources are subject to OCR’s scrutiny for accessibility, even if they have a relatively small anticipated audience.

Based on available data, most of the complaints are being resolved with voluntary resolution agreements between the school districts and OCR. Those agreements frequently call for training, repairing inaccessible parts of the existing web site, and a commitment that web-content in the future will be accessible. If your district has been subject to a complaint, much of this may sound familiar.

Whether OCR has come beating on your door or not, it’s important to understand how to create accessible web content. There are certainly some technical aspects of how to create acceptable and accessible content, but the resources provided below are a great place to start. You should also consult with your school district IT and web development team to see if they have additional suggestions for ensuring that accessible content is being created and posted on “school district” websites.


Resources

10 Tips for Creating Accessible Course Content

Tips for Making Online Documents Accessible: Word, PowerPoint, Excel & PDF

Adobe Resources

Flash Videos

A recently released resource is directed specifically for teachers and educators which share Microsoft’s key capabilities in servicing students with disabilities