How can Schools Prepare for Title II Digital Accessibility Requirements?

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This article was written by Kara Arundel on May 6, 2024 and published by K-12 Dive.  

A newly issued federal rule to ensure web content and mobile apps are accessible for people with disabilities will require public K-12 and higher education institutions to do a thorough inventory of their digital materials to make sure they are in compliance, accessibility experts said.

The update to regulations for Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, published April 24 by the U.S. Department of Justice, calls for all state and local governments to verify that their web content — including mobile apps and social media postings — is accessible for those with vision, hearing, cognitive and manual dexterity disabilities.

For example, students, staff and parents who are deaf currently may be unable to access information in web videos and other digital presentations lacking captions. People with low vision might not be able to read websites or mobile apps that do not allow text to be resized or provide enough contrast.

Additionally, individuals with limited manual dexterity or vision disabilities who use assistive technology can find it difficult to access sites that do not support keyboard alternatives for mouse commands.

“This final rule marks the Justice Department’s latest effort to ensure that no person is denied access to government services, programs, or activities because of a disability,” said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, in a statement on April 8, the day Garland signed the rule.

Understanding challenges in the community

Mary Rice, associate professor of literacy at the University of New Mexico, recommends that school districts prepare for compliance by doing an inventory of their digital materials.

Rice, who has spent the past 10 years conducting research on accessibility and online learning, also suggests that districts first consider who in their community has accessibility challenges, whether they are students, teachers, staff, families or guardians.

For instance, if a district enrolls a 3rd grader with low vision, it should prioritize making grade 3-4 materials compliant, Rice said. Or if students have caretakers who are grandparents with accessibility challenges, districts should look at those considerations.

For public universities and colleges, Rice predicts that more collaboration will be needed between teaching faculty and instructional design staff who support course development so those materials come into compliance. Rice also said universities will need to figure out how to ensure that PDFs of academic journal articles assigned to students by professors are accessible.

“Spending your whole life advocating for yourself” to get accessible materials is “demoralizing and draining and inappropriate,” Rice said. The new regulations will “hopefully bring this to the attention of schools and school leaders, and we’ll make some headway.”

Disability rights advocacy groups have for some time been pressing the federal government to update accessibility standards. On April 12, Disability Rights Florida issued a statement calling the rule “historic and exciting.”

A joint May 2023 Dear Colleague letter from DOJ’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights said OCR had resolved and monitored more than 1,000 cases related to digital access in recent years. The cases were initiated by complaints of discrimination from the public.

Earlier, in May 2022, OCR proactively opened 100 compliance reviews on digital accessibility at state departments of education, school districts, charter schools, public and private universities, and public libraries.

Becoming compliant

The nearly 300-page rule goes into effect June 24, but governments and public institutions, including public schools and universities, have two or three years to comply. The compliance date depends on the population size within a state or local jurisdiction.

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