THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT
July 24, 2020
This Sunday, July 26, 2020, will mark 30 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, providing those living with disabilities a broad spectrum of protections against discrimination on the basis of disability. We at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) want to pause and celebrate this momentous legislation.
OCR has worked tirelessly to enforce federal disability laws. In fiscal year 2019 alone, OCR resolved 6,210 complaints alleging one or more violations of Title II of the ADA or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Over the course of FYs 2017, 2018 and 2019, OCR resolved 5,476 Title II or Section 504 allegations with change. By way of comparison, this is over 1,500 more allegations than the prior administration resolved with change during FYs 2014, 2015 and 2016 combined. Additionally, during FY 2019 alone, OCR launched over 700 proactive investigations in two national initiatives focused on improving outcomes for students with disabilities.
This year, in FY 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced students, teachers, parents, and school personnel to navigate unprecedented and difficult obstacles to education, including the transition to online (or distance) learning. As the nation faced more distance-learning challenges, OCR was well-positioned to help by ensuring technology used in educational settings is accessible to those with disabilities. Through a combination of OCR’s National Website Accessibility Team and the Center for Outreach, Prevention, Education and Nondiscrimination (OPEN Center), OCR was able to provide crucial guidance and tailored technical assistance to recipients and students during a time when everyday seemed to bring new technological challenges arising from an evolving educational landscape. To date, OCR’s guidance on topics related to COVID-19 and the transition to distance learning has included:
- Providing Webinars on “Online Education and Website Accessibility” and “Civil Rights and COVID-19;”
- Publishing a “Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-12 in Schools while Protecting the Civil Rights of Students” and a “Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary, and Secondary Schools while Serving Children with Disabilities” to alert recipients to potential civil rights violations during the transition to distance learning; and
- Publishing a “Questions and Answers: Information on Protecting Higher Education Students’ Civil Rights during COVID-19 National Emergency” to provide technical assistance on civil rights obligations under Title VI, Title IX, and federal disability laws for postsecondary institutions.
Beginning in December 2018, OCR launched series of proactive investigations as part of a national initiative to increase online and website accessibility for students with disabilities. As part of this effort, OCR forged an innovative, nationwide team of experienced civil rights attorneys, investigators, and information technology experts to address the accessibility of online educational materials in elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools and help recipients comply with the federal disability laws. This nationwide team not only investigates complaints alleging issues of online and website accessibility, but also provides in-depth technical assistance to recipients. They work with schools, libraries, and their vendors to better understand how to remediate, or avoid altogether, technological barriers to access for individuals with disabilities.
In January 2019, the Department launched a nationwide initiative to address the possible inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion (R&S) on students with disabilities which includes three components that draw on the work and expertise of OCR and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS). For the first time in the agency’s history, OCR opened R&S-focused compliance reviews—across all 12 regional enforcement offices—to ensure that school districts are complying with federal disability laws. As a second component of this initiative, OCR is engaging in a substantial effort to improve R&S data submitted to the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). Beginning in March 2019, OCR contacted a large number of school districts with 2015-16 CRDC R&S data anomalies and, based on the success of those efforts, in August 2019, OCR reached out to all school districts asking that they address any errors in reporting R&S incidents for the 2017-18 CRDC. Finally, the Department's initiative involves the provision of R&S technical assistance to SEAs and school districts to support children with disabilities, their families, and the individuals in schools who serve those students and to ensure schools are collecting and reporting accurate data related to the use of R&S. Between the compliance reviews launched by the regional enforcement offices, CRDC data quality reviews initiated by headquarters, and the coordinated provision of technical assistance, OCR will interact with countless recipients and help them better understand their obligations under Section 504 and Title II, improve the reliability of data collected via the CRDC, and correct violations of federal disability laws impacting students with disabilities everywhere.
As we celebrate this day, we hope that you can pause and reflect on what this country has achieved over the past 30 years in preserving and protecting equal access for individuals with disabilities.
For more information about the ADA and the work of OCR, please contact OCR’s Center for Outreach, Prevention, Education, and Non-discrimination at OPEN@ed.gov or visit www.ed.gov/ocr. Or, if you need assistance or have questions about web accessibility, our Web Accessibility Team can be reached via email at OCRWebAccessTA@ed.gov. You can also watch the OCR Short Webinar on Online Education and Website Accessibility here and the webinar on Students with Disabilities and the Use of Restraint and Seclusion in K-12 Public Schools here.