How Isle of Wight County Schools Turned an OCR Letter into an Opportunity to Make their Website ADA Compliant
The district, which had no dedicated webmaster, received a letter from the Office of Civil Rights notifying them their site would be reviewed for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Isle of Wight County Schools
Location: Isle of Wight County, VA
School Type: District
Population: 5,630 Students
Age Group: K-12
Address concerns from the Office of Civil Rights
Improve ADA accessibility on their school website
Reach everyone in their school community
The Dreaded OCR Letter
When Isle of Wight County Schools received a letter from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) telling them that their district website was being reviewed for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), district leaders were worried.
“I think ‘panic’ is the appropriate word,” said Lynn Briggs, Director of Community and Media Relations for the district, “and a little bit of ‘Why us?’”
With approximately 5,500 students in nine schools, the small district didn’t have a dedicated webmaster ready to put together a plan to achieve compliance. “We had been seeing some information about ADA compliance and school websites on the news and through our state department of education,” Briggs explained, “but we were just starting to explore the issue when the letter arrived.”
What they did have going for them was an existing relationship with Edlio, who they had already partnered with to update their site. As district personnel worked together to learn everything they could about ADA compliance and establish a line of communication with OCR to find out what needed to improve, the Edlio team explained that ADA compliance is based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). While Edlio was already updating the site to WCAG 2.1, they advised AA level compliance.
In its original letter, OCR had noted two issues to address:
- A lack of skip notification, which allows users to navigate with a screen reader or keyboard,
rather than a mouse; and
- The use of drop-down menus, which also require users to navigate via mouse.
An Opportunity in Disguise to Make Their Website ADA Compliant
Less fortunately, the list of challenges to address from OCR was growing as they reviewed the district’s website. “What started as a problem with three pages on our site came to envelop our entire district website and all of our schools’ individual sites,” Briggs explained. “To stay on top of the situation, we maintained frequent communication with OCR and kept Edlio in the loop on what they were expecting us to do.”
Though the growing list of issues to address was “maddening and stressful,” Briggs said that it was also an opportunity to update a site that had become a bit “like an old filing cabinet that had been stuffed with so much content that many things just got buried and forgotten. What began as a simple project to update a couple features to ensure compliance became a comprehensive plan to not just ensure our site was universally accessible but more streamlined and easier for all users to navigate.”
While working to update the site’s accessibility, for example, the district found that many visitors were coming to the site looking for the same information, such as how to register a child, upcoming lunch menus, and the district calendar. “Instead of having those linked from multiple places on the site, we were able to streamline it all as part of the project of ensuring ADA compliance,” Briggs explained.
Bringing Staff Up to Speed
Without a dedicated webmaster, the role of site management at Isle of Wight County Schools is a shared responsibility among staff members with other primary duties, such as teaching or communications. If they were going to keep their sites compliant and, more importantly, accessible to all visitors, they needed to be trained on the changes to the sites and why they were being made.
To answer questions and get everyone on the same page, the district held meetings for those employees who managed their school sites and went through each site page by page to identify any issues, such as a lack of alt text on images, documents uploaded as images rather than as PDFs, or hyperlinks that said “click here” instead of offering descriptive text.
Briggs also met with district administrators and building principals to ensure they understood why changes needed to be made and how they could best support the staff members making those changes. “It was a lot of work for them because this was not their primary responsibility,” Briggs said. “We had to give them time, but aside from that, all they needed was the information about how to keep their school sites in compliance.”
The Edlio Help Center also proved to be a useful source of support. With a range of helpful articles, webinars, and other resources about accessibility and other topics, it was a great place to send folks responsible for the district’s site as well as any other teachers or administrators with questions about the websites.
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Did you know? You can be hit with an OCR letter if your school website is not fully accessible - it’s part of the ADA Section 504. What to do if that happens: https://learn.edlio.com/isle-of-wight #ADAforSchools #SchoolWebsiteAccessibility #Edlio #edchat
Once their new site was up and running, Isle of Wight received another letter from OCR: “During the investigation, the Division expressed a sincere commitment to removing all barriers without delay,” the letter stated. “Given the Division's responsiveness and the comprehensiveness with which it has removed the barriers throughout the Division's website, not just on the pages originally cited..., OCR is closing its investigation of the complaint ... and will take no further action on the complaint.”
“The responsiveness and attention the division received from Edlio was crucial to this positive outcome,” Briggs told the company at the time. “I can't thank the team at Edlio enough for all the time and effort they have devoted to resolving the website issues that were identified.”
As for advice to any other districts receiving an unexpected letter from OCR,
“Don’t panic,” said Briggs. “Make sure the lines of communication are open with OCR, tap a partner to help you navigate the process, and try to reframe it as an opportunity to improve your website for everyone involved.”