Web accessibility is generating a landslide of OCR complaints for colleges and universities, state departments of education and school districts across the country. Last week, a series of complaints were filed with OCR alleging failure to make websites accessible for individuals with disabilities. Some estimate that as many as 350 complaints were filed. If OCR were to show up on your doorstep tomorrow, would they find that your institution is compliant?

As an agency charged with enforcement and interpretation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, OCR issued guidance on emerging technology in 2010. OCR’s guidance requires that institutions take steps to ensure that students with disabilities “receive all the educational benefits provided by the technology in an equally effective and equally integrated manner.” Students with disabilities must be able to acquire the same information and enjoy the same services as the rest of the campus community.

Recent OCR Resolution Agreements have required institutions to take a variety of steps to ensure web accessibility. In Ohio, both Youngstown State University and the University of Cincinnati entered into agreements with OCR to ensure web accessibility. The Michigan Department of Education’s OCR resolution agreement requires the department to caption up to 800 videos and convert up to 8,000 documents so they’re accessible to people with visual impairments.

Below are some common provisions of recent resolution agreements:

  • Adopt and publish a Notice of Nondiscrimination that is consistent with Section 504 and Title II
  • Designate one or more persons to coordinate the institution’s efforts to comply with Section 504 and Title II
  • Identify the Section 504 Coordinator in the Notice of Nondiscrimination
  • Review the institution’s website and e-learning platform(s) to identify and fix any accessibility problems
  • Put in place mechanisms to ensure that the institutions websites continue to be accessible
  • Develop, adopt, and provide notice of a web accessibility policy
  • Create, adopt, and follow an implementation and remediation plan to ensure adherence to the web accessibility policy
  • Provide training to staff responsible for webpage and content development, including faculty and students, as appropriate

A blind mother of three and the Seattle School District also recently settled a 2014 lawsuit involving web accessibility; the resulting consent decree requires the school district to create and maintain an “accessible education resources” portal to help faculty and staff communicate effectively with people with disabilities and ensure accessibility of educational content.

As these cases, resolution agreements and new complaints show, compliance with federal civil rights requirements in the area of web accessibility is an increasingly important responsibility of educational institutions at all levels.