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How to Respond to a Letter from the OCR

Jul 26, 2017

Have you received a letter from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) notifying you that your website violates federal web accessibility standards? If so, you’re not alone. School districts and academic institutions from across the country are being notified by the OCR that their websites are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

What is the OCR?

The OCR is a division of the U.S. Department of Justice that investigates legitimate complaints about rights violations. Although we are all familiar with civil rights topics ranging from employment to fair housing, many of us are less familiar with mandatory web accessibility standards set forth by the ADA. Under this legislation, all online services and programs, including websites, must be made accessible to persons with disabilities.

Some of the most common website accessibility complaints include videos that have not been transcribed for the hearing impaired, images without alt-tags, or PDF files that have not been optimized to ADA standards.

What to Do if You Receive a Letter from the OCR

If you were unaware that your website had accessibility issues, or what accessibility requirements are, an OCR notice might come as a surprise. After carefully reading the complaint, it’s time to take decisive action and take steps toward resolving your website’s issues.

  1. Notify the appropriate people

If your school or district has received a complaint, you must inform all relevant parties immediately. This includes contacting your school’s legal counsel and consulting with the IT department. After the appropriate channels are informed, they can begin to investigate the complaint. Your communication with these channels should be done in writing via email.

  1. Confirm whether the accessibility issues exist

Work with your IT department to determine whether your website meets the WCAG 2.0 A/A standards, enforced by the OCR. This international standard allows web administrators to measure accessibility by testing for errors.

  1. Assign a web accessibility coordinator

Assign a web accessibility coordinator to ensure all your content is accessible. The coordinator will also work with various departments so all accessibility violations are reported in a timely manner.

  1. Respond to the OCR request promptly

Upon receiving the official notification letter from the OCR, you will normally have 15 to 30 calendar days to respond. In your response, you will be required to submit all relevant information pertaining to the accessibility complaint. However, you will not be asked to resolve the complaint within that brief period. If the OCR deems that the complaint is valid, they will work with you to ensure all accessibility barriers are fixed in a timely manner.

In your response, you must also present your response to the allegation(s) that should include whether you were aware of the specific accessibility issue, the results of your accessibility test, and a full acknowledgment of the pages that need to be fixed. You will also be required to state whether your organization has an accessibility policy in place and provide a list of vendors responsible for designing and maintaining your website.

If you have any questions about the allegations or your response, the notification letter will contain an email and phone number of the OCR attorney processing the complaint.

  1. Implementing your plan after OCR approval

After the OCR approves your plan, you are required to post your accessibility policy on your website and notify all relevant parties (staff, students, parents, visitors, etc.). Within six months of the OCR’s approval, you must complete a full audit of your website and develop a timetable for resolving all accessibility issues. All corrections must be made within six months.

For many institutions, a letter from the OCR serves as a wake-up call to get their accessibility features up to date and into compliance with current standards. Given that the ADA was passed long before school websites were in operation, institutions must take a proactive approach to ensure their online services are fully accessible to people with disabilities.

The Bureau of Internet Accessibility has helped many School districts and academic institutions from across the country. Contact us today for assistance or guidance

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

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