The OCR Closed Over 2,500 Complaints – What Does This Mean?
At the beginning of this year, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) shockingly announced they were closing 2,500 complaints they had in line to investigate.
There was, of course, panic.
Did this mean that institutions didn’t have to worry about making their content accessible?
Now, if an individual complainant files an individual case – and not a mass set of complaints at once – then the complaint will be opened and investigated.
As a result, institutions of higher education should still be mindful of accessibility.
Don’t be mislead.
Rest assured the OCR is still cracking down on institutions that aren’t accommodating students with disabilities.
Institutions must continue to strive to make their campus accessible.
In the webinar, The Legal Year in Review: Accessibility Trends in Higher Ed, Paul Grossman, Former Chief Reginal Attorney at the US Department of Education, OCR, gives advice to higher ed institutions on the best way to stay on top of accessibility.
In this blog, we take Paul’s advice and explore how past OCR decrees can help institutions become OCR complaint.
When building their accessibility policy, the University of Washington also looked into past OCR decrees. As a result, they have one of the most comprehensive accessibility policies in higher education.
What does an OCR consent decree include?
To understand what the OCR is looking for in an accessibility policy, we can look at consistent requirements between past OCR lawsuits.
Make web pages accessible
The most common resolution found in OCR agreements is to make web pages accessible. The standard benchmark cited by the OCR is WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliance.
Under WCAG 2.0 Level AA, websites must be:
The OCR also requires accessibility policies to include processes for requesting accessible versions of content, reporting inaccessible content, and website auditing.
Establish on-going quality control
In order to ensure that your technology is up to date, the OCR wants to see institutions establish a quality assurance process.
The OCR is looking for institutions to define standards for technology.
In addition, the OCR commonly requires institutions to set up a system for on-going testing and accountability to ensure that all technology is up-to-date.
Establish a procurement process
Accessibility should be included from the start.
This means starting from how an organization purchases new technologies. Inserting accessibility into the procurement process will help an organization save money and time in the long run. Even if you don’t have any need for accessible technologies now, you may in the future.
Read our blog on the 3 Essential Steps for Building Accessibility into the Procurement Process to understand where to begin.
The OCR recommends that a process is created to verify a vendor’s accessibility claim. You need to hold them accountable because in a lawsuit, your organization – not the vendor – could be penalized for inaccessible technology.
Hire and train staff
Training your staff on web accessibility is one of the most important things you can do to ensure you are OCR complaint.
The most successful accessibility programs provide constant training and support for faculty.
In addition, the OCR often requires institutions to hire an Accessibility Coordinator who has the power to change and establish an accessibility policy. A person who can take action will have more impact and be a better use of your resources.
The Miami Agreement
The Miami agreement was the result of an OCR complaint from a blind student against Miami University.
The decree is an emblem of what a thorough settlement looks like to ensure information technology (IT) on campus is accessible.
Miami agreed to make all their web content and learning management systems compliant with WCAG 2.0 Level AA within 6 months. Within 18 months, they agreed to have completed an accessibility audit of older systems dating back to 2012. For materials older than 2012, they agreed to make them accessible on an as-needed basis.
All videos on the home page of each academic division and all critical or important videos would also be WCAG compliant – i.e. captioned and described.
All other videos are to be converted on a case-by-case basis at student request.
Miami agreed to purchase technology that was WCAG 2.0 Level AA. When not available, they agreed to purchase technology that meets the next best standard.
They also agreed to test purchases and to migrate to a more accessible learning management system.
You can hear/read more about Miami’s procurement process in the webinar,
Incorporating Accessibility into the Procurement Process.
When selecting course materials, Miami agreed to “consider” course materials with accessible electronic formats.
If a material is considered absolutely essential to a class but is not accessible, then Miami agreed to convert it themselves. The fact that the material isn’t accessible, should not affect if a teacher decides to include it in the syllabus – a First Amendment protection.
Disabled Student Services agreed to meet on a recurring basis with every student with a vision or hearing disability to ensure they are receiving the materials they need or equivalent alternative formats.
Disabled Student Services also agreed to meet with teachers to review the syllabus and help identify the materials they would need to provide, as well as how to properly accommodate a student.
Even though the OCR closed a lot of complaints, that doesn’t mean they won’t come knocking on your door.
Be proactive and begin implementing the most common principles the OCR requires.
For more information on the accessibility trends in higher education, watch the webinar with Paul Grossman, The Legal Year in Review: Accessibility Trends in Higher Ed.
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to request an accessible version.
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