Legal Requirements for School Website Accessibility
Public schools and districts are required by law to provide equal access to services, programs, resources and activities for all students, parents and staff members, regardless of disability. The Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has interpreted this requirement to include access to information and resources found on the school website. This means that schools and districts must take steps to ensure that content on their websites is accessible to people with visual, auditory, dexterity or cognitive challenges.
There are three sections of the law that schools and districts should be aware of when it comes to website accessibility: Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 and Section 508.
ADA Title II
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides broad protections for people with disabilities to ensure that they are able to engage equally in public and civic life. Title II, passed in 1990, says that state and local government agencies, including public schools and districts, are prohibited from discriminating against people with disabilities. Under ADA Title II, schools must make reasonable accommodations to ensure that people with disabilities—including students, family members and staff—are able to access services, programs, activities and resources provided by the district. This includes ensuring access to both physical facilities (e.g., providing wheelchair ramps and elevators for access to school buildings and classrooms) and the print and digital resources that are part of the school experience.
The 1973 Rehabilitation Act prohibits entities receiving Federal funding from discriminating on the basis of disability. Public schools who receive any form of federal funding (which includes the majority of schools) must demonstrate that they are taking steps to ensure equal access to services for people with disabilities. Section 504 provides broad protection for people with disabilities, stating that they "cannot 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 1973 Rehabilitation Act lays out more specific guidance for access to digital and technology resources. It says that Federal agencies and entities receiving Federal funds (again, including public schools) have to make electronic resources and information accessible for people with disabilities.
Office of Civil Rights Interpretation of Website Accessibility Requirements
The Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has issued specific guidance regarding access to digital and electronic resources under Title II and Section 504. Specifically, the 2010 OCR Technology Accessibility guidelines state:
Section 504 and Title II require schools and colleges to ensure that the technology they use is fully accessible to individuals with disabilities or otherwise to provide equal access to the educational benefits and opportunities afforded by the technology.
This has been interpreted to include not only digital curriculum resources but also information on the school and district website, which is considered to be an essential part of the services provided by the school. Students, parents and staff with disabilities must have access to content on the website including:
Enrollment information and forms
Schedules and calendars
General school and district information
Curriculum and classroom resources
School and district policies
Over the last few years, disability rights advocates have put increased emphasis on school website accessibility, resulting in a large number of OCR complaints. Schools and districts should take steps to improve website accessibility to reduce their chances of an OCR complaint or lawsuit.
Contact us to get started with your accessible school website today. We can have you up and running with a new, accessible website in just a few weeks!