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By: Lily Crespo Esq.
Quick Takeaway: Defending website accessibility lawsuits can be an expensive and difficult battle for schools. These cases provide some helpful insight on what gets schools into and out of legal trouble.
Persistent website accessibility issues call for new user report process. The absence of visual focus indicators, meaningful labels, and color contrast on a Missouri district’s website caught the attention of OCR. Although OCR found that the technical issues rendered the website inaccessible to individuals with disabilities using assistive technology, it suspended its investigation once the district promised to comply with the requirements of Section 504 and Title II. Ladue (MO) Sch. Dist., 121 LRP 18102 (OCR 03/11/21).
Improving accessibility to homepage cures Section 504, ADA woes. Quick updates to a Kansas school district’s website after learning of accessibility barriers on its website avoided a potential finding of liability for alleged Section 504 and ADA violations. OCR closed its investigation after confirming that the district had corrected all identified barriers to accessibility and taken steps to prevent them from recurring. Shawnee Mission (KS) Pub. Schs., 121 LRP 10770 (OCR 10/06/20).
Revamping screen reader, visual tools brings district website into compliance. Improving a Florida school district’s homepage so that users with visual disabilities could utilize screen readers and magnifying tools helped ensure that the website provided equal access to all users. OCR determined that the district did not violate Section 504 or ADA Title II and closed its complaint. Jackson County (FL) Sch. Dist., 121 LRP 8933 (OCR 09/23/20).
Improved website navigation, visibility eases OCR’s accessibility concerns. The changes that a Tennessee district made to its website shortly after several district directors spoke with OCR about the district’s website accessibility allowed it to avoid liability for alleged Section 504 and ADA violations. OCR closed its investigation after confirming that the district had corrected all identified barriers to accessibility and taken steps to prevent them from recurring. Knox (TN) County Schs., 121 LRP 8911 (OCR 09/21/20).
Website template’s lack of link labels, titles create barriers for screen readers. A Florida district’s decision to remedy all accessibility issues on its main website stopped an OCR investigation in its tracks. Because the district addressed the potential compliance concerns in a timely manner, OCR found insufficient evidence that the district violated Section 504 or Title II. Osceola (FL) Sch. Dist., 121 LRP 8929 (OCR 09/18/20).
Retest of Tenn. district’s website showed full accessibility for users. Although a Tennessee school district’s website initially lacked cohesive keyboard navigation capabilities and sufficient color contrast to ensure that users with disabilities could fully access the information on the site, its prompt corrective action eased OCR’s compliance concerns. Shelby (TN) County Schs., 121 LRP 8935 (OCR 09/22/20).
District removes website barriers, allows students with disabilities access. A Florida district remediated all identified barriers that impeded the ability of people with disabilities to access its online programs. Because additional testing confirmed that the district removed the barriers and developed a strategy to maintain compliance, OCR found no violation. Pinellas County (FL) Sch. Dist., 121 LRP 8927 (OCR 09/29/20).
Barriers to screen readers, keyboards persist without online report process. A Florida district will need to overhaul its main website after OCR identified several technological barriers that likely made the site inaccessible to individuals with visual impairments. Because the district agreed to ensure that its website complied with Section 504 and Title II requirements within 12 months, OCR closed its investigation without making a compliance determination. Hernando County (FL) Sch. Dist., 121 LRP 14054 (OCR 01/27/20).
What these decisions mean for schools: Avoid lengthy and expensive legal challenges (from students and OCR) by keeping an eye on the overall goal. Ultimately, the goal of web accessibility should be to give students, guardians, and faculty the ability to be successful in an equal way. That means students and parents with disabilities have equal access to the information, materials, and tools that others have access to and in an equally timely fashion.
As you consider these and other issues, we recommend you speak with your school lawyer or contact Bea, Kevin, Megan, Beth, and Lily by email or at 406-542-1300 to discuss these issues.