We’ve touched upon Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in previous posts. Title III focuses on the treatment of individuals with disabilities within places of public accommodations. This post will examine two other regulatory standards that have recently been causing a legal stir, this time focusing on the accessibility of school websites.

Web accessibility requirements for schools fall under two main regulations: Title II of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Title II of the ADA, which is regulated by the Department of Justice (DOJ), 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 schools, more commonly referred to as “public schools” when referring to elementary, middle and high schools and “state schools” for universities funded by taxes fall under the purview Title II.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act protects the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education. Specifically, 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…” Recipients of federal financial assistance include public school districts, higher education institutions, and other state and local education agencies.

Common web accessibility complaints among schools include:

  • Lack of alternative text on images
  • Documents posted in an inaccessible format
  • Lack of captions on videos
  • Lack of audio descriptions in videos
  • Lack of access to control panels on videos
  • Improperly structured data tables
  • Improperly formatted and labeled form fields
  • Improper contrast between background and foreground colors

Why is this important now?

While the DOJ is involved in the rulemaking process of what constitutes an accessible website under the ADA, no official regulations have been finalized. However, On April 29, 2016, the DOJ released a statement regarding “rulemaking on accessibility of web information and services of State and local government entities,” which argued for technical standards clarifying how to make a website accessible. Additionally, the DOJ published a supplement, which discussed the use of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA standards as the guidelines for school websites.

Bottom Line: School websites, even without formal technical standards (although presumably on the way!), are responsible for making their online content accessible to individuals with disabilities as not doing so leaves them liable to lawsuits.