As the parent of a son with special needs and advocate to thousands of students with special needs, I fight unapologetically hard for their civil rights and right to a free and appropriate public education. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t an advocate for children. I believe in children, ALL children. I believe in the dream of America providing a globally enviable public education to EVERY child. I believe in “special education” and in a day when it continues to regress to pre-Federal and State laws and rules. I am advocating for children in the worst of times and getting worse by the school year. When will the bleeding stop? Only when every parent, concerned citizen, teacher (all teachers), administrator and voter decides that truly public education matters.
Still, until such a day that EVERY child receives a free appropriate public education, I will do my part to hold our State and Federal disability laws accountable. I will file State and Federal special education and civil rights complaints, and simply because they need to be filed. How do we hold laws accountable if we don’t work to ensure they are enforced?
So, just last week I received a Final Report and Voluntary Resolution Agreement from the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and pursuant to a complaint that I had filed against the Michigan Department of Education over a website and webpage that I believed to be inaccessible to people with disabilities. The OCR agreed with me and I wrote a blog and attached the documents for all who cared to read, and to share.
Today I received a Final Report and Voluntary Resolution Agreement to a complaint that I filed on July 25, 2014 against Oakland Community College, located across Oakland County in Michigan, and again alleging that a website was out of compliance and inaccessible. And again, the OCR agreed with me and just like the Michigan Department of Ed, they found Oakland Community College in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Oakland Community College touts itself as a College that accepts and caters to students with disabilities. As the parent of a son who attends this College and advocate for several other students. I can tell you that this is not quite the case. In fact, I have two other active investigations going with the OCR against this College for a failure to provide documented accommodations. Still, for a College that requires ALL students to enroll in classes online through their website, to have a website that is inaccessible, is inexcusable and even hypocritical.
The Office for Civil Rights found the following violations to Oakland Community College’s website.
- Oakland Community College did not have in place any policies or procedures related to the creation, modifications, and editing of the College’s website, including any policies and procedures related to the accessibility of its website.
- A lack of alternatives to text on all images;
- Documents not posted in an accessible format; such as PDF documents, or those in other image-based formats, are often not accessible to people who are blind and who use screen readers and to people with low vision who use text enlargement programs or different color and font settings to read computer displays.
- A lack of captions on all videos and the inability to operate video controls using assistive technology; thus users who are deaf or hard of hearing may be unable to access information conveyed verbally, and users who are blind or have low vision may be unable to discern what is happening that is not indicated in dialogue.
- Improperly structured data tables; and improperly formatted and labeled form fields.
- The video players have controls that lack the ability to control them with a keyboard, which causes significant concerns for keyboard users. Additionally, the buttons on the controls are not labeled so that they can be controlled by assistive technology users.
- Examples of improperly structured tables were found on the College’s “ACCESS” page, which is the page for the College’s disability services office.
Read enough? Me too, but this is not all that the OCR found out of compliance with Oakland Community College’s website. And if you are not outraged you need to have your outrage valve checked by your internist, especially if you are the parent of a college-age student with a disability.
I wish I could tell you that Oakland Community College’s out of compliance and inaccessible website is an anomaly. It isn’t. A significant number of public school districts, and colleges and universities, have inaccessible websites for individuals with disabilities. If you are so inclined, do some reading on the ADA and Section 508 and then take the URL for your child’s school district or college/university and plug it into www.powermapper.com or another web accessibility testing tool. If you find that the website is out of compliance and inaccessible, consider filing an online complaint with the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights at www2.ed.gov/ocr/complaint/intro.html. You have no idea how easy it is to hold a public school district, college or university that accepts public funds, accountable. So for the sake of your child, your family member, your friend, yourself, or simply because as a citizen you care, please do what you can to hold our State and Federal disability laws accountable.