The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a webinar this week addressing online education and website accessibility. In the webinar, the Department of Education recognized that e-learning activities are becoming the norm as schools move their educational operations online in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). OCR reminded schools that such methods of learning are appropriate “as long as [they are] accessible for everyone” or “equally effective alternate access” is provided to individuals with disabilities in another manner.
The webinar reminded educators that many individuals are blind, have low vision, have mobility disabilities affecting hand control and coordination, are deaf or hard of hearing, and have other disabilities such as seizure disorders or cognitive disabilities. It also reiterated that individuals with disabilities may use assistive technology, such as speech recognition software, mouth sticks, or eye tracking or pointing devices, to navigate websites and access related information such as linked PDF documents. All e-learning resources should allow individuals with disabilities to access the resources, including while using assistive devices. If that is not possible, alternative means of access should be provided.
The webinar encouraged schools to engage in routine testing of the technology being used to address the COVID-19 crisis. OCR recommended using both automated checkers and manual testing conducted by an individual who can identify accessibility deficiencies that go undetected by automated checkers.