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US Education Department Settles Civil Rights Complaints Over Accessible Websites

  • Published: 2016-07-01 (Revised/Updated 2016-11-10) : U.S. Department of Education (ed.gov).
  • Synopsis: Settlements with education organizations in seven U.S. states and one territory to ensure website accessibility for people with disabilities.

Main Document

Quote: "As schools, school districts, states, and territories turn to the internet as a way to provide relevant and up-to-date information to their audiences in a cost-effective manner, they must make sure they are not inadvertently excluding people with disabilities from their online programs, services, and activities."

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced that it has reached settlements with education organizations in seven states and one territory to ensure website accessibility for people with disabilities.

OCR had received complaints involving each of the organizations, resulting in investigations. But before OCR had completed its probes, each of the 11 parties expressed interest in resolving their cases voluntarily, resulting in the agreements announced today. The settlements involved: Juneau, Alaska, School District; the Guam Department of Education; Montana School for the Deaf and Blind; Santa Fe, New Mexico, Public Schools; Washoe County, Nevada, School District; The Davidson Academy of Nevada; Nevada Department of Education; Oregon Department of Education; Granite, Utah, School District; Bellingham, Washington, School District; and the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

"As schools, school districts, states, and territories turn to the internet as a way to provide relevant and up-to-date information to their audiences in a cost-effective manner, they must make sure they are not inadvertently excluding people with disabilities from their online programs, services, and activities," said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights. "I applaud each of these signatories who have committed to ensuring that their websites are accessible to people with disabilities."

The agreements cover issues raised under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to online services and programs.

OCR investigations found that on all 11 websites important images were missing text descriptions, called "alt tags," that describe the images to blind and low-vision users who use special software.

Common problems affecting many of the websites included:

The 11 education groups voluntarily committed to make their websites accessible through a range of actions, which require OCR review and approval at key stages, including:

OCR's mission is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. OCR is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination by educational institutions on the bases of disability, race, color, national origin, sex, and age, as well as the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act of 2001.

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1 - European Online Public Services to be Made Accessible - European Parliament.
2 - User1st - Website Accessibility Made Easy - User1st.
3 - Competition Provides Nonprofits with Disability Friendly Websites - Microassist.
4 - US Education Department Settles Civil Rights Complaints Over Accessible Websites - U.S. Department of Education.
5 - Europe Agreement Regarding Accessible Websites - European Council - Council of the European Union.
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