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Independent School Websites And The ADA

By Gary D. Finley

Independent school administrators are wrestling with whether the School’s website must meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Non-religious private schools are considered public accommodations under the ADA, and over the last two years, a number of plaintiff’s attorneys have filed lawsuits on behalf of their disabled clients against public accommodations – including colleges and universities – claiming that websites are inaccessible and violate the ADA.

So where does that leave school administrators seeking to be legally compliant and striving to assist persons with disabilities who attempt to access school websites? The best answer for now (unless and until the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) issues clearer guidance on the issue) seems to reside in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”) 2.0, a publication that both the DOJ and courts have identified as providing appropriate guidelines related to website accessibility for disabled individuals. Among other topics, WCAG 2.0 identifies the following considerations:

  • Entities should provide “alt text” in their html codes; this allows electronic screen readers to describe pictures to the visually impaired.
  • Websites should allow for individuals to navigate through the site using tab and arrow keys (instead of just using a mouse).
  • When navigating the website using the tab key, selections should change color to assist visually impaired people.
  • Website colors should provide sufficient contrast to assist the visually impaired.
  • Any videos on the website should include closed captioning.
  • Linked PDFs should also be available in other formats, as screen readers are usually unable to read PDFs. 

Schools that have yet to address website accessibility should consider auditing their websites for ADA compliance. For some schools, this can be done in-house, at least in the early stages; other schools may choose to seek outside IT help in implementing ADA-related changes. Now is the time to begin to tackle this issue, before the website accessibility lawsuits against MIT, Harvard, and other colleges and universities, trickle to independent schools.

Administrators with questions about how the ADA impacts any aspect of their school’s operation – from its website, to its facilities, to its hiring and admissions practices and beyond – are encouraged to seek legal counsel from attorneys experienced in both disability and independent school law.