This UW Non-Discrimination policy is consistent with federal civil rights laws, specifically Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities receiving financial assistance from the federal government. The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by employers (Title I), public entities (Title II), and places of public accommodation (Title III), all of which apply to the UW. Both Section 504 and the ADA require that the University provide equal opportunity to individuals with disabilities to participate in, and receive the benefits of, the educational program, and require that the University provide accommodation or modifications when necessary to ensure equal treatment.
When both of these laws were passed, IT had not yet attained the prevalence that it now has throughout society, including education, and neither law explicitly mentions IT accessibility. The Department of Education recently issued guidance that states that its long-standing nondiscrimination requirements means that schools schools must provide technology that it uses to provide educational benefits, services, or opportunities that is fully accessible to students with disabilities. Although accommodations or modifications can also be made to ensure equal access, these accommodation must ensure that the benefits of the educational program are provided to these students in an equally effective and equally integrated manner. Further guidance on the definition of IT accessibility is also available in the Section 508 standards or W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, see our Accessibility Standards page for additional information).
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has proposed new rules that will explicitly define the requirements for web accessibility under the ADA. An announcement regarding these new rules was expected from the DOJ in 2013, but as of January 2014 none has been issued.
Many colleges and universities have created policies related to accessibility. Some are specifically related to IT; others are more general. For example, the University of Washington has an equal opportunity and reasonable accommodation policy, approved by the Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs by authority of Executive Order No. 31. The policy states:
The University of Washington, as an institution established and maintained by the people of the state, is committed to providing equality of opportunity and an environment that fosters respect for all members of the University community. This policy has the goal of promoting an environment that is free of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.
In accordance with this policy, the University of Washington is committed to providing access and reasonable accommodation in its services, programs, activities, education and employment for individuals with disabilities.
To ensure that all faculty, staff, students, and members of the public have equal opportunity, our programs must be designed in such a way that everyone has access, including when access is via technology.
For additional examples see our annotated list of example policies in higher education.
Given the UW’s commitment to providing accessible opportunities and environments, it looks to the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (Level AA) as a target for meeting these commitments related to web and IT accessibility. For additional information about WCAG 2.0, see Accessibility standards.
Other resources related to laws and policies
Some higher education institutions have faced legal action in the form of resolutions or lawsuits related to their IT accessibility. The following pages were developed in order to organize this information so that we and other institutions might learn from it and apply it to our own accessibility efforts.
- Resolution agreements and lawsuits
Provides a comprehensive summary of legal cases related to technology accessibility, especially in higher education
- Legal cases by issue
Features a list of key issues that have surfaced in legal resolution agreements involving higher education institutions and technology accessibility.