General and Legal Information
What does the law say?
Digital accessibility for schools is required by law under three primary regulations:
- Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (opens new window)
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (opens new window)
- Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (opens new window)
Title II of the ADA
This is regulated by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) (opens new window) and prohibits discrimination on the "basis of disability in all services, programs and activities provided to the public by State and local governments, except public transportation services." State-funded or "public schools" elementary, middle and high schools as well as universities funded by taxes fall under Title II.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
This regulated by the U.S. Department of Education (opens new window) with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) (opens new window) protects the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education. It states that "no otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States .. shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance ...".
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (opens new window) was amended in 1998 to "require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities." This law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain or use electronic information technology. This access must give both disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to access available to others who may not have a disability.
What defines "Accessibility"?
Accessibility all depends on the information and the situation that it applies to. Most accessibility issues revolve around websites as it is the primary form of information, but it also applies to the technology used to access the information or applications and documents that need to be accessed.
The primary standard for websites based on WC3 consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Standards (opens new window). In these guidelines, there are 3 levels of standards referred to as Level A, Level AA and Level AAA. In order for a district's website to be considered "accessible", it must past the WCAG 2.0 Level AA standards (the 2.0 represents the AA standards). The AA standards incorporate all standards from Level A and Level AA. The complete list of WCAG 2.0 standards can be overwhelming. Fortunately there is help in reviewing these standards through various software that will check your websites.
Documents must also meet the WCAG 2.0 standards. Most people think that documents and websites are different. However, they share many of the same characteristics as website pages. The same principals can be applied.
Media includes both video and audio resources. The WC3 consortium has a list of standards for Media Accessibility Standards (opens new window).
Who is checking our district's accessibility?
First, students, parents and employees are checking your district's accessibility. Ultimately it is this group of people that accessibility affects the most and each district is required to meet their needs.
Legally, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is actively checking public school websites for content that meets the WCAG 2.0 Level AA guidelines. If the website is found non-compliant, a complaint will be filed with the district.
What if a complaint is filed against us?
The first step is to acknowledge the complaint. From there, the district should contact both the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the district's attorney. Based on the response from the attorney, a response letter should be sent to OCR. A district has the right to request all documents from the complaint and then evaluate and review the complaint allegations and assess their validity. From there, work through the process with administrators, staff and people involved as appropriate. Most likely all parties will want to come to a resolution and what is best for both the student and the district.