Pledge to implement Web accessibility policy resolves 504, Title II claims

Case name: Lapeer (MI) Cmty. Schs., 116 LRP 12079 (OCR 11/20/15).

Ruling: OCR closed its investigation into allegations that a district violated Section 504 and Title II of the ADA by failing to ensure that its website was accessible to individuals with disabilities. The Michigan district agreed to resolve the parents’ claims by creating a Web accessibility policy and assigning a Web accessibility coordinator to implement it.

What it means: Online content provided by districts must be accessible to individuals with disabilities and satisfy Title II’s effective communication requirements, no matter when the content was created or who created it. Rather than risking an OCR investigation over Web content that isn’t equally accessible to individuals with disabilities, a district should proactively develop and implement a comprehensive Web accessibility policy. It also should run accessibility tests and audits on a regular basis to check its websites against its policy’s standards, and promptly correct any problems.

Summary: A Michigan district promised to fix any glitches in its efforts to provide accessible online content following a complaint that its website’s home page and special education page were inaccessible to individuals with disabilities. Noting that the district signed a resolution agreement to address website accessibility, OCR closed the parents’ complaint that the district failed to comply with Section 504 and Title II.

The parents of a child with a disability alleged that certain pages on the district’s website were inaccessible to individuals with visual impairments, hearing impairments, intellectual disabilities, physical impairments, and reading disabilities, and that they were not accessible with PDF files. The parents’ advocate added that she used an online accessibility checker that identified accessibility problems.

OCR observed that Section 504 prohibits districts from providing a qualified person with a disability with an aid, benefit, or service that isn’t as effective as that provided to others. 34 CFR 104.4 (b). Moreover, Title II requires that districts take steps to ensure that communications with applicants, participants, members of the public, and companions with disabilities are as effective as communications with others. 28 CFR 35.160 (a)(1).

OCR noted that its guidance in Dear Colleague Letter, 43 NDLR 75 (OCR 2011), stressed the importance of planning to ensure accessibility from the outset.

Before OCR completed its investigation, the district agreed to develop a policy to ensure information provided through its website is accessible, particularly to those with visual, hearing, and manual impairments, and to ensure that those who require the use of assistive technology could access information.

The district agreed to identify a Web accessibility coordinator responsible for ensuring accessibility and conducting regular audits. The district also promised that, once OCR approved its policy, it would conduct an internal accessibility audit. Finally, it promised that if the audit identified any accessibility issues, it would develop a corrective action plan to address them.

Joseph L. Pfrommer, Esq., covers special education legal issues for LRP Publications.

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