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Why Schools are the Target of OCR Demand Letters [Webinar Recap]
Stephanie Griffin

Our Website Accessibility Fall Webinar Series wrapped up last week as Tyler D'Amore, Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC/IAAP) and Sean Bradley, President & CTO at AudioEye, led the discussion on The Target of Demand Letters.

This issue matters to schools because if your school, district or college receives any amount of Federal funding (whether it's $500 or $50,000) you are required, under both Title II and Title III of the ADA to offer a fully accessible website. If your website is not accessible, you are open to the risk of receiving an Office of Civil Rights (OCR) demand letter, or in other words, a fine for your website's non-accessible content.

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The webinar covered:

  • The importance of website accessibility
  • The role of both the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and OCR
  • How schools can handle an OCR complaint to assure their website is as compliant as possible

Let's dive deeper into these three topics.

Understanding the Importance of Accessibility and Legal Responsibility

As discussed in the first webinar of the series on accessible website content, today's digital age naturally requires digital inclusion — meaning that content needs to be accessible for all individuals. We reviewed the laws, regulations and guidelines relevant to schools receiving federal funding and responsibilities under the ADA for schools that receive no federal funding.

First, there is the ADA.

Schools fall into the category of disability rights under Title II and Title III of the ADA.According to ADA.gov guide to Disability Rights Laws, Title II states:

Title II covers all activities of State and local governments regardless of the government entity's size or receipt of Federal funding. Title II requires that State and local governments give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities (e.g. public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings).

In short, any school that is Federally funded is required to give those with disabilities the same opportunity as anyone else when it comes to visiting and browsing its school website. Many public schools, districts, and higher education institutions fall under this requirement.

Likewise, Title III states:

Title III covers businesses and nonprofit service providers that are public accommodations, privately operated entities offering certain types of courses and examinations, privately operated transportation, and commercial facilities.

Given that Title III of the ADA requires equal access in places public accommodation, and rulings in federal suits have found that to include the Internet, private schools, colleges and universities need to make their websites and digital content accessible.

Second, there is Section 504.

In addition to Title II and Title III of the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in any program that is federally funded. Within this Act is Section 504, a law that is relevant for any school that receives federal funding. Section 504 states: "no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity that either receives Federal financial assistance or is conducted by any Executive agency or the United States Postal Service."


Watch this webinar on-demand any time at your convenience here!

Watch it Now

The Current OCR Climate

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Education that focuses on protecting civil rights. The mission of the OCR is to ensure equal access is offered within education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through vigorous enforcement of civil rights. The OCR impacts digital accessibility for school websites specifically as it enforces several Federal civil rights laws including Section 504 and Title II.

Some common errors they will look for on your website include:

  • No alt-text on images
  • Misleading structural elements
  • Uncaptioned audio or undescribed video
  • Lack of alternative information for users that cannot access frames or scripts
  • Sites with poor color contrasts

The OCR is also particularly focused on the ADA compliance around:

  • Color contrast
  • Tab/Keyboard focus
  • Form elements
  • Times content
  • Headers
  • PDFs

Managing OCR Complaints

Anyone who believes that an education institution or program that receives Federal financial assistance has discriminated against someone on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age, can file a complaint. This includes failing to provide equal access to digital content in internal or external-facing websites.

What can your school do if you receive an OCR violation?

  1. Procure an accessibility specialist. This would require having an individual help your school implement a multi-month strategy. They would also serve as an additional resource who has an accessibility perspective that is involved.

  1. Provide accessibility support resources for end-users. This means you should be able to provide statements/resources/contact info of the accessibility specialist your school is working with that can help respond to any questions for your website visitors.
  1. Establish an audit priority plan. This is when your school will work with your accessibility specialist to determine the different environments that are important for your school's website to cover and your school's ecosystem based on the tools you provide to constituents.
  1. Audit your website's existing content and functionality. An evaluation of your current content is key so you can report back to the OCR on how accessible your content is.
  1. Train resources & establish policies and procedures for new content and functionality. This means as content is being published to your site, your school should be working towards preventing the new content being created be non-accessible.
  1. Formalize a corrective action plan. This is when your school is ready to supply the OCR with a breakdown of audit findings, strategy of taking what you found and remediating it - aka fixing it.
  1. Remediate issues and adhere to correction action plan schedule, as this will be a continuous effort to assure your school website is fully compliant.

Overall, it's important to remember accessibility is about people, not compliance. Understand your responsibilities but also what to do if you are the target of demand letters. By following these steps, you can assure you have a comprehensive solution, not simply a report, recommendation or starting point, that will be used to meet accessibility standards.

Finalsite & AudioEye

Achieving and maintaining accessibility is possible with the partnership between Finalsite and AudioEye. It's important to remember a new CMS provider isn't your one-stop-shop for website accessibility. It is also important to remember that accessibility is not a one-time fix. Websites, like the Internet, are dynamic achieving accessibility and maintaining accessibility is key and can be accomplished with Finalsite and AudioEye. In just over six months, this partnership has become the single-source solution for web accessibility that has benefits many schools like Mansfield ISD that have the AudioEye software fully installed on their website, ensuring a compliant accessible experience for all users. Some additional benefits include the opportunity to speed up the process in assuring your website is fully compliant, while also eliminating risk of OCR violations, and improves usability for all your users.

If you're school is ready to take on ADA compliance in 2018, let us know. We'll use AudioEye's trusted software to run a full accessibility audit of your website, and provide hard data on the number of accessibility errors present, and advice on how to fix them.


Demand Letters


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephanie Griffin

Stephanie brings a fresh new marketing perspective with her background in social media, communications, and radio broadcasting. She is a co-producer for the FinalsiteFM podcast network and is passionate about helping schools stay ahead of their marketing goals by tracking new trends and developments. She is also a practicing singer/songwriter and loves to expand her creativity in DIY projects.

 

 

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