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Department of Education Updates Complaints Process, Reopens Hundreds of Web Accessibility Complaints

Dec 10, 2018

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently announced big changes to its Case Processing Manual (CPM), removing the OCR's ability to dismiss complaints it deems an "unreasonable burden" and reinstating the opportunity to appeal.

The OCR has the responsibility of ensuring equal access to education and enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Lawsuit motivating reversal of protection from burdensome complaints

In March 2018, the OCR made some controversial updates to its complaints policy, most notably granting itself the authority to dismiss burdensome complaints. A May lawsuit filed by the National Federation of the Blind, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is driving the reversal. Among the claims in the lawsuit, it's noted that:

"Contrary to its mission and without any public notice, earlier this year DOE summarily eliminated substantive rights of the very people it purports to serve by changing its Case Processing Manual to abdicate its basic duty to investigate legitimate complaints of discrimination by students and their parents."

How can schools protect themselves from accessibility complaints and lawsuits?

Students expect their online materials to be accessible, and inaccessible websites and digital platforms can make access to information difficult, and sometimes impossible, to find or navigate. The best way to create accessible and compliant experiences is to adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which are the most universally-accepted accessibility standards and which have been considered to provide a sufficient level of accessibility in lawsuits and investigations. According to WCAG, content must be POUR — perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

Read: How to Plan Your School's Website for Accessibility and Avoid Fines

Common accessibility issues in educational materials

Here are some key areas that should be reviewed, as violations to these guidelines are common in educational materials:

  • Videos should have sufficient captions and transcripts, which allow everyone access to the information conveyed even if they cannot see or hear it.
  • PDFs and all documents should be tagged, structured, or otherwise optimized for accessibility, helping people receive the information no matter how they interact with the file.
  • Navigation should be clear and consistent, and all controls must be functional with a keyboard or keyboard alternative.
  • Color combinations should be carefully selected and tested for color contrast. Meeting minimum contrast ratios makes content visible for most people. You can check the contrast of any web page using the a11y® Color Contrast Accessibility Validator.
  • Images and all non-text content must have equivalent text alternatives available.

Read: Web Design and Accessibility: Basics every new designer should know

The Bureau of Internet Accessibility can help bring schools and academic institutions into compliance

We've helped many school districts and academic institutions around the country, and we have a 100% acceptance rate from the OCR as an approved third-party auditor. Talk to us to learn about our comprehensive education accessibility audits and how we can help you achieve, maintain, and prove digital compliance. Or, you can get started with a free and confidential website accessibility scan and when you're ready to talk about your results, we'll be here.

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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