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Education Websites Beware!

The rules have changed written on clipboard

Are you an educational institution who thought they didn’t have to prioritize website accessibility? If so, you may want to think again. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) updated its Case Processing Manual (CPM). In recent years, the OCR has carried a hefty load when it came to the number of complaints received for website accessibility. Most of these complaints came from a single civil rights activist. To help streamline the process of handling complaints, the March 2018 update to OCR’s CPM included section 108(t), which allowed the OCR to dismiss a complaint if it was part of a pattern of complaints. 

When the updated manual was initially released, almost 700 current OCR complaints were closed without further review. As a result, many schools let their breadth out—but maybe a little too quickly. We hope your school did not adopt this passive mindset not only because doing so would mean you are not providing equal opportunity for everyone, but also because the case processing rules have changed again.

Dismissing complaints filed by the same person as copycat lawsuits without first reviewing and verifying the validity of the complaint concerned many. Among those concerned were civil rights groups such as the NAACP, the National Federation of the Blind, and the Council for Parent Advocates whose attorneys filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Maryland. The lawsuit claims this new process would not protect the rights of those with disabilities. Whether because of the lawsuit or just due to further review, the November 2018 update to OCR’s CPM eliminates this new section allowing the dismissal of complaints without further review. (You can read the complete press release on the Department of Education’s website.)

What does this mean for my website?

Whether you are an educational institution or other business, if your website is not accessible, you are not only failing to provide everyone access to your content, but also you have always been at risk for legal action regardless of the copycat cases that OCR previously dismissed. The decision to dismiss complaints did not eliminate the law that requires your website to be accessible. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and Sections 504 and 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, remain in affect. 

Who can file a website accessibility complaint?

laptop screen showing error message
  • Student
  • Teacher
  • Parent
  • Employee
  • Cousin Eddie in Kansas
  • Anyone

Yes, even cousin Eddie who does not live in your city or even your state can file an accessibility complaint against your website. Almost 700 cases that were previously dismissed due to the March 2018 update were filed by a civil rights activist that had no affiliation with the schools complained against. Many of these case previously dismissed are being reopened for investigation, so if your complaint is one previously closed, be ready to prove you took the extra time to ensure your website is accessible to everyone. Of course, if you are still scrambling to understand what you need to fix, contact us right away! We can provide you an accessible website much faster than you can read through and understand WCAG 2.0.

I get it—it’s the law. But why is website accessibility really important?

Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Kenneth Marcus said:

“Our top priority in the Office for Civil Rights is ensuring all students have equal access to education free from discrimination.” 

Every person should have equal opportunities for learning and living. Have you ever thought about how someone with a visual impairment such as color blindness is affected in life? Consider students who are color blind. What if their online assignment included only using color to select their answer (i.e., green box for yes or red box for no)? Even if they knew the answer but couldn’t see a difference between the answer boxes, they wouldn’t know which one to select. If their assignment had specified the answer by color and shape, they would have been able to complete the assignment as easily as every other student.

Let’s consider another scenario: When your right-handed instructor breaks his right arm, using the computer mouse to click through slides and worksheets with his right hand would be difficult if not impossible. In an accessible website, keyboard navigation is essential. This means everything is accessible using only a keyboard. If his web content is accessible, he can continue to teach, using the same technology he and his class are accustomed to by simply navigating through the material using only the keyboard—a task much easier to do with a non-dominant hand. Voice activation is another feature enhanced with accessibility features and would be another way to actively eliminate the need for both the mouse and the keyboard.

Accessibility and usability work best when both are applied. User experience is more intuitive when you achieve success in both areas. In addition to providing access to everyone, since mobile and touch screen technology have accessibility at its core, the accessibility features you implement  enhance the user experience on these technologies as well.

If you aren’t sure if your website is accessible, use our WCAG 2.0 checklist to help you decide. Download your free copy below. 

Website Accessibility Checklist: Use this handy checklist to ensure that your school website is accessible to everyone! Free Download

The content (text and graphics) directly on your web pages is not the only content you need to worry about. Remember to review your attached documents. Most websites include numerous PDF documents; be sure they are also accessible. Visit our Document Remediation page for more information about remediating your documents.

Is it possible to keep my website accessible every day?

Yes. Of course, that is if we manage your website for you. Knowing the importance of accessibility and the legal requirements to provide an accessible website is only the beginning. Our expert staff are all fully training on how to develop and maintain accessible websites. We eliminate the fear of having well-intentioned staff members throw your website out of compliance, creating accessibility barriers with every update. Let us make your website accessible and keep it that way day in and day out.

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