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Web Design, Usability

The Dreaded OCR Letter: What You Need to Know

letter in mailboxThere 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:

If you have specific concerns, you can ask for assistance from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights by emailing or calling 800-421-3481.

We’re here to help too. Request a free accessibility scan of your website below, complete with results.

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