On May 26, 2011, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued an online FAQ document discussing how OCR believes the “equal access” requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1964 (Section 504) apply to the use of emerging technology such as electronic book readers, online application processes, and websites in higher education. The FAQ offers valuable insight into the enforcement priorities of OCR and the Department of Justice (DOJ) in this area of disability law and may be helpful to institutions grappling with the challenges of technological accessibility.
The FAQ is only the latest in a series of agency actions—some inspired by complaints and court proceedings—that focus on the issue of technological accessibility. The FAQ elaborates on issues addressed in a June 29, 2010 “Dear Colleague” Letter, which was jointly issued by OCR and by the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ. As we reported in a previous FR Alert, the 2010 “Dear Colleague” Letter discussed the increasing reliance within higher education upon electronic book readers—some of which are not accessible by individuals who are blind or have low vision. The letter asked institutions to refrain from requiring students to use inaccessible electronic book readers. Disputes about inaccessible technology have continued to afflict higher education, however. Indeed, during 2010 and 2011, the federal government received (and, in some cases, resolved) a number of highly publicized complaints by the National Federation of the Blind challenging allegedly inaccessible online application processes, e-mail platforms, and electronic book readers. (Some of these complaints and resolutions are posted or noted on the DOJ Disability Section’s website, at www.ada.gov).
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