There has been a lot of talk—and confusion—about letters from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) related to technology accessibility. Colleges and universities may receive an “OCR letter” when their website does not seem to be fully accessible to individuals with disabilities or fails to provide equal access to educational benefits and opportunities afforded by the technology.
In June 2010, when the idea of using electronic book readers in the classroom began gaining ground, “Dear Colleague” letters by the OCR were sent as reminders that emerging technologies must be in compliance with civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. Among the main issues then was with text-to-speech functionality, or lack thereof, which discriminated against those with visual disabilities—almost 230,000 students in postsecondary education alone. That letter was followed up with a Q&A to better explain the technology requirements.
Today, the issue encompasses any discrimination related to information technology. A 2011 white paper by the World Health Organization found that “the proliferation of web multimedia has outpaced accessibility initiatives... leaving many disabled students more disadvantaged than ever before.” Because higher education institutions must meet the ever-growing demand for digital accessibility, college and university web developers are left to grapple with the needed—but complicated—task of compliance.
Has your institution received an OCR letter, or does your web team live in fear of getting one? You’ll fare better by being proactive instead of waiting to be reactive.
Here’s a roundup of educational information to help you better understand OCR letters and accessibility issues:
- Morality of Accessibility article from Inside Higher Ed
- Rich Paul’s blog post on whether your Website Is Up to Code
- eQAfy’s research on Keeping Higher Education Websites Accessible and tools for testing higher ed website accessibility
- Disability Rights: Enforcement Highlights from the Office for Civil Rights
- OCR Disability Discrimination pamphlets
- Eric Meyer’s Compassionate Design video
- Disability Discrimination Case Resolutions
- Chronicle of Higher Education’s story about one activist targeting schools with inaccessible websites for people with disabilities
- Disability Discrimination Pending Cases
- 3PlayMedia’s 3 “Dear Colleague” Letters You Should Read About Inaccessible IT in Higher Ed
- How to Respond to a Letter from the OCR from the Bureau of Internet Accessibility
- Penn State’s helpful guide to accessibility and usability
- University of Washington’s roundup of Resolution Agreements and Lawsuits from institutions that have faced legal action related to inaccessibility of their information technology
- Free WAVE tool as a second check for evaluating the accessibility of your web content
- Inside Higher Ed’s article on the Faculty Role in Digital Accessibility
If you have specific concerns, you can ask for assistance from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights by emailing OCR@ed.gov or calling 800-421-3481.
We’re here to help too. Request a free accessibility scan of your website below, complete with results.