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ADA Title II Update: Countdown to K-12 School Website Accessibility
Connor Gleason

The U.S. Department of Justice recently made a significant update to The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), intended to prevent the exclusion of people with disabilities from the rapidly expanding digital landscape in education and other public sectors.

The ADA Title II update was signed in April 2024 to ensure that websites, mobile apps, and other digital tools used by state and local governments, including public K-12 schools, are accessible to everyone, especially people with disabilities.

What’s the significance?

While the new rule addresses gaps in digital accessibility, the update ensures that all web users have equal access to resources regardless of their physical abilities — and the clock is ticking.

Many public K-12 schools’ websites, mobile apps, social media posts, or other online platforms must meet specific ADA website accessibility standards by April 2026 or face the possibility of a violation from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

What Does the ADA Title II Update Mean?

The new rule states that all digital content and services provided by state and local governments—including many schools—are accessible to everyone, particularly individuals with various disabilities that affect their vision, hearing, cognitive function, and manual dexterity.

Previously, the ADA’s guidelines implied the need for digital accessibility but didn’t explicitly mandate it for web content and mobile applications. The ambiguity created some inconsistencies in how different governmental services handled accessibility, but this update hopes to remove any uncertainty and create a uniform approach to ADA compliance and accessible school websites.

“This final rule marks the Justice Department’s latest effort to ensure that no person is denied access to government services, programs, or activities because of a disability,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in a press release.

Key Features of the ADA Title II Update

By defining what digital accessibility looks like and actually setting a timeline for compliance, the update helps ensure that future digital content is accessible right from the start. Altogether, the update brings a few changes, including:

  • More Explicit Accessibility Standards: The rule sets specific standards for digital content based on WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards and covers a wide range of recommendations for making digital content more accessible.
  • A Broader Scope: This new rule applies not only to state and local government bodies but also to organizations that work with them, such as public schools, hospitals, and police departments.
  • Exemptions: There are some exemptions, however. For example, web content that’s archived and not in active use doesn’t need to be updated to meet these standards. Other exceptions include older archived electronic files, password-protected documents, third-party content, and specific social media posts made before the compliance deadlines.

Read the Full Document: Fact Sheet: New Rule on the Accessibility of Web Content and Mobile Apps Provided by State and Local Governments

The Update’s Impact on K-12 Schools

The clock is running, and the ADA Title II update means schools need to focus on how digital accessibility affects everyone in their school community.

Some K-12 schools will need to make key considerations to meet the new ADA guidelines:

  • Web Content and Mobile Apps: All new and existing web content and mobile applications must be accessible. For instance, text must be resizable, videos need captions, and all interactive functions should be operable through keyboard inputs and a mouse.
  • Social Media and Digital Communications: Under the new rules, any ongoing social media content must be accessible. This means adding descriptions to images and captions to videos so that users with visual and hearing impairments can understand the content.
  • Testing and Learning Platforms: Many schools use digital platforms for testing, grading, and learning management, and these platforms will need to be fully accessible as well.

Compliance Deadlines and Requirements

The updates to ADA Title II come with specific deadlines that public K-12 schools need to meet. Fortunately, these deadlines give schools time to assess, plan, and implement any necessary changes to ensure their digital content is accessible. The rule takes effect on June 24, 2024, but schools have a window of time to become fully compliant based on their size and the population they serve:

  • Large Districts: For K-12 school districts (and state universities) in areas with a population of 50,000 or more, the deadline to comply with the new ADA standards is April 24, 2026, about two years from the rule's effective date.
  • Smaller Districts: The deadline is extended to April 26, 2027, for smaller school districts and special district governments (like county community colleges or independent school districts) located in areas with fewer than 50,000 residents. This additional time recognizes that smaller districts may have fewer resources and may need more time to make the updates.

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Requirements to Meet the Compliance

To meet the requirements, schools must ensure that all their digital content, including websites, mobile apps, and any online learning materials, align with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA standards, which include:

  • Providing Alt text for non-text content, like images or videos
  • Making all functionality available from a keyboard for people who cannot use a mouse
  • Ensuring that users have time to read and engage with the content
  • Not designing content in a way that is known to cause seizures
  • Providing ways to help users navigate and find content

Essentially, these requirements mean your school’s digital content needs to consider the POUR principles, a framework for creating and managing accessible content. The acronym POUR stands for perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust, meaning:

  • Perceivable: Content and user interfaces must be recognized and used by users, regardless of their sensory abilities. This is where adding Alt text and captions for video and media becomes essential.
  • Operable: This means your school’s website and content are accessible via keyboard, users have enough time to read and use content, and your content avoids using quick flashes (which can cause seizures). Your site should also use headings and call-to-action language appropriately and offer a search function to help users find information more effectively.
  • Understandable: Your information must use clear language and explain jargon or complex terms so the content is accessible to students and adults with learning or cognitive disabilities.
  • Robust: Content must be able to be interpreted by user-assistive technologies, like screen readers.

Keep Reading: How to Keep Your School District's Website Accessible

Steps for Schools to Achieve ADA Compliance

Meeting these new requirements might be challenging, especially for schools that lack the resources and technical expertise to overhaul their content. However, the deadline does present an opportunity for schools to improve their content and create a truly inclusive online experience.

Your district can prepare for these compliance deadlines by taking several steps:

  • Conducting an Audit: Schools should start by thoroughly auditing their existing digital content to identify areas that do not meet accessibility standards.
  • Use an Accessible Website Provider: Select a website provider that builds websites with accessibility in mind.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation: Once changes are made, schools should regularly monitor their digital content to ensure it remains compliant with ADA standards and make adjustments as needed. 

Keep Reading: [Checklist] How to Select a Vendor for an ADA Compliant Website

Screenshot of accessibility checker issues within Composer

Finalsite’s content management system, Composer, features a convenient accessibility checker that flags common accessibility issues, like missing Alt text and improper headings usage.

  • Training and Support: Educate your website administrators and contributors about the importance of digital accessibility and the update. If you haven't established your school website's accessibility policy, now would be the time.
  • Find an Accessibility Partner: Schools prioritizing online accessibility should consider finding a program like AudioEye, Finalsite’s preferred accessibility partner.

San Jose Unified School District uses AudioEye as a guardrail to suggest quick fixes for any non-accessible content on its site. The integration also lets users adjust text size, contrast, line spacing, and more to accommodate their needs and preferences.

Key Takeaway

The clock is ticking, but by understanding and preparing for these compliance timelines and requirements, schools can ensure they meet legal obligations and move toward creating a more inclusive and accessible experience for all students and staff.

Register for a free online course: Building accessibility into Your Communications Plans

Connor Gleason Headshot


Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.

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