Navigating the New ADA Rule: Implications for Accessibility in Education

16 May 2024 | Accessibility | Public sector | Legislation

Victoria Nieuwenhuys
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Evolution of ADA and Education

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has long played a pivotal role in shaping educational policies for students with disabilities since its inception. From the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to the recent groundbreaking ruling on Title II, the ADA has continuously evolved to address accessibility in various spheres, including education.

Most recently, ongoing amendments have been particularly focused on web content and mobile app accessibility. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has issued an unprecedented final ruling on Title II of the ADA, mandating website accessibility as a legal requirement for public entities. This ruling marks a significant advancement in ensuring equal access to government services for individuals with disabilities and preventing discrimination in the digital realm.

Implications for Public Schools

Public schools, as state entities operated at the local level, must adhere to these new laws and regulations promoting accessibility and inclusion for all. While there has long been a provision in the law to ensure physical accessibility for students with disabilities, such as making physical modifications to buildings for those using wheelchairs, this new update extends the principle of equal access to education into the digital space. 

The onset of the 2019 pandemic accelerated the shift from traditional to digital learning methods. This emphasised the need for accessible learning materials for students with a range of disabilities, including visual, hearing, motor, and cognitive impairments. The new ruling mandates that K12 and higher education institutions ensure that their web content and mobile apps are accessible, underlining the legal repercussions for non-compliance, including lawsuits and financial penalties.

Endorsement by US Attorney General

In an official press release, US Attorney General Merrick Garland emphasised the significance of these regulations in upholding the principles of equal access to education for all individuals. He stated, “This final rule marks the Justice Department’s latest effort to ensure that no person is denied access to government services, programs, or activities because of a disability.”

Challenges in Digital Education

In today’s digital classrooms, students and teachers with disabilities face numerous challenges. These include difficulties accessing online content without proper captions, navigating websites or apps lacking essential features like text resizing or contrast adjustments, and encountering barriers in navigating digital platforms without keyboard alternatives for mouse commands. Addressing these challenges is essential to ensure full engagement and effective participation in online activities.

However, it’s not just school materials that must be adapted. The law spans wider to incorporate not only students and teachers but also guardians and families, basically anyone using school or government services. If websites share event details, announcements and updates on students’ academic progress without catering to those with disabilities, vital information can be overlooked. 

Expert Insights on Digital Accessibility

Digital accessibility specialist Mark Pound, CEO of CurbCutOS, and a close collaborator of both Sitemorse and our sister company, AAAtraq, has long since advocated for equal access to education. He recognises the significance of the updated regulations for Title II of the ADA. Pound emphasises the critical role of accessibility in education and stresses the need for schools to take proactive steps to ensure that their web content, tools, learning management systems and digital textbooks are accessible to individuals with disabilities. 

Commenting in an online article, Pound states, 

“This is a new journey. It’s not something where you just check a box and you’re done. Schools need to take this on. By doing so, schools can create a more inclusive and equitable learning environment.”

Embracing Inclusivity in Education

The recent ADA ruling on Title II reflects a crucial step forward in ensuring equal access to education for individuals with disabilities in the digital age. By mandating website accessibility for public entities, including schools, the Department of Justice has underscored the importance of inclusivity and non-discrimination in educational settings. Schools must embrace this new journey of digital accessibility, not merely as a compliance requirement, but as a commitment to creating a more inclusive and equitable learning environment for both students and teachers, and those responsible for overseeing a child’s education and welfare. By prioritising accessibility in web content, tools, and digital platforms, schools can empower individuals with disabilities to fully engage with educational materials and participate effectively in online activities, ultimately fostering a more inclusive and diverse educational landscape for everyone.

Ensure Your Website is Compliant

Regardless of whether or not you are currently obliged to adhere to compliance laws, supporting inclusivity and ensuring your website information is accessible to everyone is always a priority. Feel free to try the Sitemorse accessibility checker for an independent assessment of your website’s accessibility. Please click on the following link: to understand and mitigate your risk.

By taking these steps, you can help create a more inclusive digital space for everyone, ensuring equal access to information and services.

Further reading