Technology plays an increasingly important role in education at all levels. Section 504 and Title II require educational institutions to provide equal access for individuals with disabilities to all educational benefits and opportunities that are provided online or in other digital formats. Many individuals with disabilities, including those who have vision or hearing disabilities, need auxiliary aids and services to access and interact with digital content.
For example, in order to access digital content, people who have vision disabilities or reading disabilities may use screen readers, which are devices that speak the text that appears on a screen. People who are deaf or hard of hearing may use captioning to access information conveyed in a video with sound. And people whose disabilities affect their ability to grasp and use a mouse or touchpad may use voice recognition software to control their computers and other devices with verbal commands, or they may use keyboard commands to navigate online content.
The resources below provide guidance about educational institutions’ legal obligations with respect to digital accessibility and information that can help everyone learn how to make digital content more accessible to all.
- OCR Documents
- Digital Access Video Series
- Related Resources
- OCR Notable Case Resolutions
- Technical Assistance
- Joint “Dear Colleague” Letter on Postsecondary Online Accessibility (May 19, 2023): “Dear Colleague” letter to postsecondary education officials from Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon and Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke regarding the Department of Education and the Department of Justice’s ongoing efforts to address barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating in online services, programs, and activities that colleges, universities, and other postsecondary institutions make available to students and the public.
- “Dear Colleague” Letter PDF (301K)
- Guidance on Use of Electronic Book Readers and Other Emerging Technologies (Frequently Asked Questions About the 2010 Guidance) (May 26, 2011): "Dear Colleague" letters to elementary and secondary education officials and postsecondary education officials, with attached Frequently Asked Questions document (FAQ), from Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali. The "Dear Colleague" letters and FAQ answer questions about the obligations of educational institutions that provide benefits to students by means of these technologies.
- “Dear Colleague” Letter (Elementary and Secondary) PDF (83.57K) [OCR-00058]
- “Dear Colleague” Letter (Postsecondary) PDF (83.80K) [OCR-00059]
- Frequently Asked Questions document (FAQ) PDF (187K) [OCR-00060]
- Guidance on Use of Electronic Book Readers and Other Emerging Technologies (June 29, 2010): "Dear Colleague" letter from Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas E. Perez, U.S. Department of Justice, concerning the obligation of colleges and universities to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to emerging technologies in education. The letter, a joint guidance from the Departments of Justice and Education, reminds colleges and universities of the legal standards in regard to accessibility, and applies those standards to electronic book readers. The letter states that it is impermissible under federal law for colleges and universities to use electronic book readers or similar technology in a teaching or classroom environment as long as the device remains inaccessible to individuals who are blind or have low vision and reasonable accommodation or modification for this type of technology do not exist or are not available.
In March 2022, OCR released a 20-part video series covering a variety of topics on digital access in education, including how people with disabilities use technology, applicable Federal laws, and how to identify and remediate different types of technological barriers that can interfere with the ability of parents and students with disabilities to participate in modern American education.OCR Video Series | ADA National Network (adata.org)
- U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology (OET)
- U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, March 18, 2022, Guidance on Web Accessibility and the ADA
- U.S. General Services Administration, Office of Government-wide Policy, Section508.gov, provides information about digital accessibility on Federal government websites
- U.S. Access Board, Information and Communication Technology
Federally funded Technical Assistance Centers
- National Center on Accessible Educational Materials (AEM Center)
- Center on Inclusive Software for Learning
- Described and Captioned Media Program
- UNIVERSITY OF NORTH TEXAS - DENTON (TX): This case pertains to a learning management system that was alleged to be not accessible to individuals who use screen readers. Identified compliance concerns included the lack of alternative text presentations for graphics in online assignments and the misidentification of language (Spanish) necessary to cue assistive technology so it could appropriately read document text out loud.
- ARLINGTON PUBLIC SCHOOLS (VA): This case pertains to a school district that transitioned to online instruction at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The complainant alleged that the district used a learning management system and PDF document work packets that were not fully accessible to parents with disabilities, including some parents who had young students who needed adult assistance with online learning. Identified compliance concerns included the lack of alternative text for important graphics and images, and that PDFs lacked the programmatic tag structure and appropriate table headers necessary for compatibility with assistive technology.
- CABARRUS COUNTY SCHOOLS (NC): This case pertains to technological barriers that were alleged to impede the ability of some students with disabilities to access some of the district’s course materials that were provided digitally through computer programs. Identified compliance concerns included that keyboard navigation did not provide access to all content and functions and that color alone was used to convey important information. The alternative means utilized by the district to present that course content may not have provided equal access for some students with disabilities.
- MIAMI DADE COLLEGE (FL): This case pertains to the use of email blasts and postings on an online student club portal conveying information about student events and services. Identified compliance concerns included the exclusive use of graphic images to convey information without meaningful alternative text.
- FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY (FL): This case pertains to a learning management system that was alleged to be not accessible to individuals who use screen readers and certain online course materials that were alleged not accessible to individuals with disabilities. Identified compliance concerns included that the visual focus indicator (that lets keyboard users know where they are on the page) was inconsistently apparent for keyboard users, interactive elements lacked meaningful programmatic labels, and videos did not have meaningful captions or audio descriptions of important graphics and images.
- FRAMINGHAM STATE UNIVERSITY (MA): This case pertains to a learning management system and electronic textbooks in the context of an online statistics course that were alleged to be not accessible. Identified compliance concerns included the way problem sets were presented in pop-up windows without meaningful programmatic labels and keyboard navigation that did not have access to all features and functions.
Educational institutions, students with disabilities, and other stakeholders can contact OCR’s National Digital Access Team for technical assistance by emailing OCRWebAccessTA@ed.gov.