Q: We recently learned that a neighboring school district is under investigation by the Office of Civil Rights for accessibility issues with the school district’s website. One item that was mentioned was closed captioning for video and audio publications. Are school districts required to include closed captioning for board meeting videos published online?
A: Generally, yes. Federal law requires that school districts provide equal access to services and resources for all members of the public, regardless of disability, and the Department of Education has interpreted this requirement to extend to school district websites.
In 2018, the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights Division launched a nationwide series of investigations as part of an initiative to improve website accessibility for students with disabilities. Recently, OCR reopened several of those investigations involving Texas school districts, so it is prudent for districts to stay proactive in identifying and confronting accessibility barriers.
To understand how access barriers affect disabled users online, it is important to consider the four major types of impairments: Visual, motor, hearing, and cognitive . Each disability type requires certain modifications in the design and delivery of web content. For example, most web content is visually dependent, meaning if a user cannot see the webpage, they will not be able to access its content. It is important therefore for web designers to add content describing photos and links, so that blind individuals may access the information via assistive technology, such as a screen reader. As another example, motor disabilities require special modifications in the way users physically interact with computer hardware. Using a mouse or trackpad may be difficult or impossible for users with a motor disability; accordingly, website designers should code webpages in a way that allows access and navigation via a keyboard or single-switch device. Moreover, webpages should include headings that are easily navigable and tagged with the correct HTML tags, to help the user move around the webpage without having to “click.”. Hyperlinks should be paired with descriptive anchor text, rather than generic phrases like “click here” or “read more”. The format of the webpage should be similar from section to section to help the user familiarize themselves with the webpage’s layout.
In sum, web designers must remove all barriers that may prevent disabled users access comparable to individuals without disabilities, including all intranet pages and password-protected areas. This can be accomplished by considering the following when developing and maintaining your website: (1) content must be accessible without using a mouse; (2) all graphics on the page must be labeled; (3) links must tell you what the link is to; (4) closed captioning is required; and (5) teacher websites must be compliant even if there are no disabled students in the teacher’s class. For additional information regarding web accessibility, look to: https://www.tasb.org/services/legal-services/tasb-school-law-esource/business/documents/sch_district_website_accessibility.aspx#:~:text=Although%20no%20law%20or%20regulation,services%2C%20and%20activities%20offered%20online and https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/blog/20200724.html.
Consult with your local school law attorney with specific questions.