Missing accessibility components block access to district’s website

Case name: Santa Fe (NM) Pub. Schs., 116 LRP 28024 (OCR 06/29/16).

Ruling: Office for Civil Rights determined that a New Mexico district may have violated Section 504 and Title II when it failed to make its website accessible to individuals with disabilities. It closed the disability discrimination complaint once the district agreed to develop an action plan to eliminate all online accessibility barriers.

What it means: Although it’s important for a district to make its campuses, events, and programs accessible to individuals with disabilities, it is just as important to ensure that individuals who use assistive technology have equal access to the district’s online features. For example, the home, special education, English as a second language, and food services pages from this district’s website were missing “alt tag” text descriptions and appropriate color combinations for impaired vision. As a result, students, parents, and employees with disabilities were unable to obtain information about specific school services to the same extent as nondisabled people.

Summary: Missing accessibility components on a New Mexico district’s main website caused OCR to investigate the district for potential Section 504 and Title II violations. Without making a compliance determination, however, OCR concluded that the district could remedy the matter by implementing a plan to improve the website’s accessible features and conducting website accessibility training for all school staff.

In a complaint to OCR, a parent reported that the district discriminated against individuals with disabilities by failing to correct certain pages on its website that were incompatible with AT. OCR explained that under Section 504 and Title II, districts must ensure that individuals with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from all district programs. Title II also requires districts to ensure that communications with individuals with disabilities are as effective as communications with nondisabled individuals.

Here, OCR evaluated numerous pages on the district’s website during its investigation. It found that the website’s home, special education, ESL, and food services pages were missing “alt tag” text descriptions and appropriate color combinations for impaired vision. Additionally, the evidence indicated that important content on the website could only be accessed by individuals who used a computer mouse.

Before OCR could complete its investigation, the district offered to resolve the complaint through a resolution agreement. Specifically, the district agreed to assign a special auditor to identify all accessibility barriers on its website and to develop an action plan to eliminate those barriers within the next 18 months. The agreement also stated that the district would provide website accessibility training for all staff members. Finally, the district assured OCR that it would promptly post a notice specifying how individuals with disabilities could request access to online information or functionality that is currently inaccessible. OCR closed the complaint.

Legal experts will present the Jan. 26 workshop How to Avoid Costly Legal Issues When Fielding and Evaluating AT Requests at LRP’s National Future of Education Technology Conference at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.

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