Resolution agreements and lawsuits

Some higher education institutions have faced legal action related to the inaccessibility of their information technology (IT). The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) share enforcement responsibility for academic and public accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and its 2008 Amendments and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These agencies have the authority to conduct a compliance audit or to initiate an investigation in response to a complaint, which can be filed by anyone. Often, these agencies will seek to enter into a resolution agreement with the subject institution in lieu of conducting an investigation and, possibly seeking sanctions or bringing a lawsuit. Generally, the implementation of the resolution agreement includes monitoring by the investigating agency.

The remaining sections of this page summarize resolution agreements and lawsuits that have involved IT accessibility issues in higher education.

We also provide an annotated list of Legal cases by issue. Both of these resources were developed so that other institutions might learn from these cases and apply the knowledge to our own accessibility efforts.

OCR/DOJ Resolution agreements

Each of the following resolution agreements applies only to the institution that has entered into it. They do, however, reveal issues that OCR and DOJ have prioritized relating to accessible technology.

University of Cincinnati and Youngstown State University

  • Complaints filed with: OCR
  • Resolved: 2014
  • Complaints: Inaccessibility of websites

Summary: These were two separate OCR complaints against universities in Ohio. Both were settled in December 2014, with very similar resolution agreements. In both investigations, OCR found that the universities failed to comply with Section 504 and Title II of the ADA due to their inaccessible websites, as well as their failure to post notices of non-discrimation in relevant documents. In both resolution agreements, the universities agreed to several steps, including developing a Web accessibility policy and accompanying implementation and remediation plan; providing training to staff; reviewing their websites, e-learning platforms, and other information technologies and developing remediation plans; and ensuring comparable access to computer labs, especially regarding provision of assistive technology.

Further Reading

University of Montana

  • Complaint filed with: OCR
  • Resolved: 2014
  • Complaint: Inaccessibility of learning management system (Moodle), documents, videos without captions, library database materials, web-based course registration through Cyber Bear, and inaccessible classroom clickers

Summary: In their resolution agreement, the University agreed to a comprehensive set of steps, each with a specific deadline that was approximately two years after the original complaint was filed. The steps were roughly comparable to those in the Penn State resolution described below.

Further Reading

Louisiana Tech University

  • Complaint filed with: DOJ
  • Resolved: 2013
  • Complaint: Inaccessibility of course materials

Summary: A complaint was filed with DOJ by a University student who is blind. He alleged that he was unable to participate in a course because of the professor’s adoption of an inaccessible internet-based application (MyOMLab) for numerous aspects of coursework. The professor also distributed inaccessible course materials. The settlement requires the University to develop and implement an IT accessibility policy that includes specific deadlines for making all web pages and instructional materials accessible as well as accessibility requirements for IT procurement.

Further Reading

South Carolina Technical College System (SCTCS)

  • Complaint filed with: OCR
  • Resolved: 2013
  • Complaint: Inaccessibility of websites

Summary: In its investigation, OCR found that SCTCS had a web accessibility policy stating that “All colleges and the system office shall follow the standards established under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act… as their minimum requirements for Web accessibility.” They note that “while Section 508 standards apply to the federal government, SCTCS — through [its web accessibility policy] — chose to adopt them system-wide as a means to ensure accessibility” and failed to meet that standard. Specific web accessibility problems mentioned in the OCR’s Findings of Fact included:

  • Inaccessible PDFs
  • Videos with no captions, delivered in inaccessible media players (controls without labels, not operable by keyboard)
  • Insufficient alt text on images
  • Form fields with no labels
  • Inaccessible drop down menus
  • Accessibility features missing from the content within course management systems
  • Campus calendars not accessible to screen readers

Summary: In the resolution the SCTCS agreed to “develop a resource guide that provides information about web accessibility requirements, standards, and links to reference materials, and to review and monitor the colleges’ websites.”

Further Reading

Penn State University

  • Complaint filed with: OCR
  • Resolved: 2013
  • Complaint: Inaccessibility of websites and course materials

Summary: A complaint was filed by National Federation of the Blind (NFB) because a variety of computer and technology-based websites were inaccessible to blind students and faculty. In the agreement, the University agreed to complete a technology accessibility audit;  develop a corrective action strategy based on the audit findings; develop a policy and accompanying procedures; institute procurement procedures and include a requirement in its RFP process that bidders must meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA for web-based technology and Section 508 standards for other technology; bring all university websites up to WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliance, specifically including the Library website; replace their learning management system (ANGEL) with one that meets Section 508 guidelines; implement accessibility solutions for classroom technologies including podiums and displays, as well as  clickers; and request accessibility of websites and ATMs of banks that have a contractual relationship with the university.

Further Reading

Lawsuits

The following sections summarize cases in which individuals brought a private cause of action under the Americans with Disabilities Act and/or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

University of California at Berkeley

  • Filed by: Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), on behalf of three UC-Berkeley students
  • Settled: 2013

Summary: DRA represented three Berkeley students in negotiations with Berkeley to improve access to textbooks, course readers, and library materials for students with print-related disabilities.

The resolution included:

  • Creating new policies to improve provision of services and accommodations;
  • Implementing a new library print conversion system to enable students to request that a book or journal be converted to accessible digital format;
  • Encouraging instructors to identify course readings well before the start of classes;
  • Improving the system for providing personal readers when accessible version is not available;
  • Implementing scanning machines to allow students to self-scan materials into digital formats; and
  • Remedying barriers in it on-line library catalog system.

Further Reading

Maricopa Community College District (MCCD)

  • Filed by: National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
  • Settled: 2014

Summary: The NFB and a blind student who recently graduated from Mesa Community College filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination against the student and other blind students. The lawsuit alleges that third-party websites and software applications used for coursework did not work with screen reading software and that clickers were used that are not accessible to blind students. In the settlement, MCCD agreed to take a series of steps that will result in the procurement and deployment of electronic and information technology that is accessible to all students, including those who are blind. Specific technologies covered by the settlement are consistent with those covered in OCR resolutions, including Penn State University and University of Montana (both are profiled above).

Further Reading

Florida State University

  • Filed by: National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
  • Settled: 2012

Summary: With the assistance of NFB, two blind students filed a lawsuit against Florida State University alleging that the Department of Mathematics discriminated against them by failing to provide them with appropriate accommodations. The suit alleged that various inaccessible technologies were used for course instruction, including a web-based application and clickers, and that textbooks were not provided in Braille. Additionally, the students alleged they were retaliated against when they complained.

The parties reached a settlement of the case, which included:

  • Payment to each student of $75,000;
  • a commitment by the University to review technology-based instructional materials for accessibility; and
  • an agreement by the University to ensure accessibility in future software and hardware procurements.

Further Reading

Ohio State University, University of Kentucky

  • Filed by: National Association of the Deaf (NAD)
  • Settled: 2010, 2012 respectively

Summary: In this case, NAD filed a law suit against The Ohio State University on behalf of a deaf football fan for lack of access to public service announcements, play-by-play commentary and other audio content at university football games. A year later, they filed a similar law suit against University of Kentucky on behalf of a season ticket holder. As a result of these settlements, both universities agreed to display captions of public address announcements, including play-by-play and player introductions, on the scoreboard and ribbon boards, as well as televisions in the concourse areas. A third law suit, against the University of Maryland, was filed in 2013.

Further Reading

 Other Resources on Legal Cases

Comments are closed.