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Are you ready for OCR compliance review at your school?

How many times has a student with disability in your class used an online learning resource that is not accessible?

Under the U.S. Department of Education, the Office for Civil Rights is ramping up compliance reviews for online learning, school websites, and platforms used by students with disabilities and parents.

Education Department Ramps up Disability related Compliance reviews

Federal education officials are taking steps to ensure online services are accessible to students and parents with disabilities through a slew of new actions and additional resources.

In an effort to ensure students with disabilities are able to access online services, the U.S. Department of Education will be launching 100 compliance reviews focused on digital accessibility.

These reviews are targeted at K-12 schools and districts, postsecondary institutions, state departments of education, libraries, and vocational rehabilitation services.

Officials indicated that they will examine all online resources from online learning material to school websites and platforms used to communicate with students and parents to determine if they are in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The crackdown was announced as the first-ever virtual summit aimed at helping schools and communities support students with disabilities and mental health needs got underway.

In addition to the new compliance reviews, the Office for Civil Rights said it is introducing a 20-part series of how-to videos to help educators understand their responsibilities in terms of website accessibility and what technological barriers exist for parents and students with disabilities in modern education.

Source: U.S. Department of Education

OCR Recent Resolutions

The OCR has received hundreds of digital accessibility complaints over the past several years. It has enforced accessibility laws by helping educational organizations and people with disabilities reach resolutions.

Latest digital accessibility related resolutions

In January of 2022, the OCR sent a letter of complaint to Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida citing digital accessibility “compliance concerns” regarding their website’s keyboard navigation, visual focus indicators for people using keyboard navigation, and lack of alternative text.

A letter sent in November of 2021 to North Slope Borough School District, Alaska, cited lack of keyboard navigation capabilities, inaccessible PDF documents, and a failure to include video captions.

In July of 2021, the OCR sent a letter to Anacortes School District of Washington, citing keyboard navigation issues, links that were not meaningfully labeled, and poor color contrast as reasons for compliance concern.

Durham Public Schools in North Carolina received an OCR violation letter for failing to clearly label links, providing inaccessible PDFs, and using a poorly contrasted background.

Educational organizations can become compliant by familiarizing themselves with legal requirements

Section 504 requirements

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act requires schools and other federally-funded organizations to provide people with disabilities equal access to their programs and services. That includes making websites, learning management and testing systems, and other digital resources offered by federally-funded organizations accessible as well.

Section 508 requirements

Section 508 specifically addresses electronic information technology, which includes web sites and other digital resources. It functions as an extension of Section 504. You can read the full Section 508 requirements here.

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by public entities and applies to all state and local governments.

It requires organizations to provide people with disabilities equal access to their programs and services. Title II extends to state and local governments, while Section 504 applies only to federal programs.

Watch the videos created by the Department of Education

Access for Everyone videos

The National Digital Accessibility Team of the Office of Civil Rights was created three years ago. It has resolved well over 1,000 cases related to web accessibility so far.

The team has collaborated with the ADA National Network to develop a series of videos on digital access in education.

These videos are about basic instructions to digital accessibility concepts such as manual testing techniques, keyboard access, focus indicators, logical reading order, alternative text, color contrast, heading levels, and other.

The videos are designed for a wide range of audiences, including school webmasters, parents and students with disabilities, and educational app developers and other IT vendors.

Source: U.S. Department of Education

Schools can minimize the chances of getting an OCR complaint by following these simple guidelines:

All images must have alternate descriptions to be accessible to students with visual impairments.

Video files must be accompanied by captions and detailed audio descriptions for students with hearing loss.

School websites must be accessible through keyboard-only navigation to help students with cognitive and physical impairments.

Proper color contrast between the text and background on web pages and web content must be provided to help students with poor vision.

Online digital content and webpages have to be compatible with assistive devices and the latest screen reading software.

Source: Microassist

Digital compliance checklist

Here’s a list of seven recommendations for accessibility compliance:

  • Create a policy for electronic and information technology accessibility
  • Appoint an accessibility coordinator
  • Include accessibility criteria in technology purchases
  • Include a link to an accessibility statement and resources and provide a feedback mechanism
  • Complete a prioritized audit of electronic and information technology
  • Remediate inaccessible electronic and information technology
  • Create a policy for electronic and information technology accessibility
  • Appoint an accessibility coordinator
  • Include accessibility criteria in technology purchases
  • Include a link to an accessibility statement and resources and provide a feedback mechanism
  • Complete a prioritized audit of electronic and information technology
  • Remediate inaccessible electronic and information technology
  • Provide role-based training for faculty, staff, and administrators

Source: Microassist

How codemantra helps education institutions achieve digital compliance?

codemantra is a global leader in Intelligent Document Processing (IDP). Its AI powered platform automates digital document accessibility compliance, captures, and extracts actionable insights from raw data, and transforms documents into any desired digital format.

codemantra helps K-12 school districts, schools, and higher education institutions provide accessible learning content to students with disabilities in compliance with requirements of Section 504, ADA, and WCAG 2.0 Level AA guidelines.

The automated platform has a suite of independent modules that assist in accessibility assessment, remediation & quality control by a combination of AI-powered engine and human intelligence.

codemantra’s accessibilityInsight™ platform provides end-to-end accessibility compliance for digital documents in any format (PDF, Word, PPT, Excel, etc.,).

accessibilityCheck

  • Audit and assess digital documents in any format (PDF, Excel, Word, etc.).
  • Performs 100+automated compliance tests against PDF U/A standards and WCAG 2.1 guidelines.
  • Validation output is in JSON or HTML format.

accessibilityFix

  • AI-powered creation of document structure, extraction of metadata, and automated tagging without human intervention to achieve compliance.
  • Auto-generates syntactic alt text for images.
  • Auto-generates math descriptions for equations using MathML.

accessibilityReview

  • Intuitive UI allows users to add enhanced meta-tagging, enter custom alt-text, and generate compliance report.
  • Users can recompile and validate content against PDF/UA and WCAG guidelines.

Conclusion

The Department of Education and OCR have initiated proactive steps to ensure digital accessibility compliance among K-12 schools and districts, postsecondary institutions, state departments of education, libraries, and vocational rehabilitation services. This is in keeping with their commitment to providing students with disabilities equal access to education and opportunities beyond.

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