Reed Smith Client Alerts

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has reportedly opened as many as 350 recent nationwide complaint investigations into whether educational agencies’ websites are accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Disability advocates are filing complaints with OCR (and federal courts) alleging that educational agencies are discriminating against people with visual impairments by failing to take active steps to make websites, cloud-based applications, documents, and printed materials accessible to people with disabilities.

A recent example of these investigations arises in connection with one conducted against the Michigan Department of Education (MDE). OCR found that that the videos and PDF documents on MDE’s web were not accessible to individuals with vision impairments. The videos, for instance, were captioned but the buttons on the videos were not properly labeled, rendering the website incompatible with a screen reader program to assist vision impaired individuals. Moreover, the PDF documents reviewed by OCR apparently would not allow a person using screen-reading software to identify the document. According to OCR, screen readers must be able to copy or extract the document’s text to convert it to speech. OCR also noted that the website did not provide a way for people to report problems accessing information.

While MDE resolved the complaint by entering into a voluntary resolution agreement with OCR, that agreement will have time-consuming, potentially costly and far-reaching implications. For example, MDE will have to caption (i.e., text representation of the audio in the video) up to 800 videos, and either convert up to 8,000 documents so they are accessible to people with visual impairments, or delete them from the agency’s website.

Now might be a good time to review your division’s website and other web-based applications for any accessibility concerns. If you have any questions about website accessibility issues, please contact your school board attorney or us.


Client Alert 2016-122