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Education Department Settles Civil Rights Complaints Over Accessible Websites

Perkins-School-Blind-blog.jpgThe U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights announced Wednesday that it has settled complaints in seven states and one territory over issues related to websites that are not accessible to people with certain disabilities. 

The department had found that websites were not using text descriptions, also known as "alt tags," on important images. Text descriptions, when used with special software, help blind or visually impaired people understand all the information on a website. 

Other concerns that the department raised:

  • Some important website content could only be accessed by people who can use a computer mouse—another hurdle for those with vision impairments or problems with fine motor control;
  • Parts of the website used color combinations that made text difficult or impossible for people with low vision to see;
  • Videos were not accurately captioned, so they were inaccessible to people who are deaf.

The entities under investigation by the office for civil rights settled with the Education Department while the probes were still underway. The parties involved in the settlement are: the Juneau school district in Alaska, the Guam Department of Education, the Montana School for the Deaf and Blind, the Santa Fe district in New Mexico, the Washoe County district in Nevada, The Davidson Academy of Nevada, the Nevada Department of Education, the Oregon Department of Education, the Granite district in Utah, the Bellingham school district in Washington, and the Washington state office of superintendent of public instruction. 

The entities voluntarily committed to be monitored by OCR and to take several steps, including auditing existing online content, making sure all new website content is fully accessible, posting a notice to people with disabilities about requesting access to currently inaccessible information, and providing website accessibility training to their personnel.

"As schools, school districts, states, and territories turn to the internet as a way to provide relevant and up-to-date information to their audiences in a cost-effective manner, they must make sure they are not inadvertently excluding people with disabilities from their online programs, services, and activities," said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, in a statement.

File photo: Laura Boelens, 15, left, and Adam Roberge, 20, work with teacher Kate Crohan in a computer class at Perkins School for the Blind in 2013 in Watertown, Mass.—M. Scott Brauer for Education Week.

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