Wednesday, April 9, 2014
OCR Reaches Agreement with South Carolina Online Charters over Access for Students with Disabilities
Seven South Carolina internet-based public charter schools serve more than 8,700 students. The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights initiated a compliance reveiw of those schools in 2013 to assess whether they were providing equal access to students with disabilities. "OCR determined that the schools' websites and online learning environments were not readily accessible to persons with disabilities, including those who required assistive technology to access the Internet. The most frequent concerns were lack of alternative text attributes on buttons, especially on video controls; lack of synchronized captioning; inaccessible PDFs; and animations that were not fully labeled. Additionally, some materials provided by third party vendors were inaccessible. These problems prevent persons with disabilities, particularly those with visual, hearing, or manual impairments, or who otherwise require the use of assistive technology to access the website or the online learning environment in an equally effective and equally integrated manner as persons without a disability."
Last month, South Carolina's charter school district entered into an agreement with OCR to address the issues. Per the agreement, the district "will ensure that all websites and on-line learning environments are accessible to persons with disabilities, including those who use assistive technology to access the internet." The full agreement is here.
Given the challenges that some students with disabilities have in physically accessing regular public schools, this is an important victory, and probably a much needed one given the various reports last fall regarding virtual charter scandals. The additional web development costs to make online material accessible to disabled students are likely modest, but an easy place for online schools (or their subcontractors) to cut corners when they try to maximize profit.