Digital accessibility is an important part of the modern classroom. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires education institutions to accommodate students with disabilities so all students have equal academic opportunities.¹
You may know the term “504 plan,” which refers to a student’s individualized accommodations.² This act and the ADA guidelines provide students with disabilities access to digital course materials, websites, and apps through anti-discrimination legislation.
What’s Included in Section 504?
Section 504 requires K-12 schools, and post-secondary institutions that receive federal funding, ensure students with disabilities are not excluded from facilities and learning programs. The law requires public institutions to provide reasonable accommodations for all students.
Section 504 doesn’t apply to private schools that don’t receive federal funding. However, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 applies to all schools. Under the ADA, private schools still need to make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities.
How Many Students does Section 504 Affect? Who Does Section 504 Help?
The National Center for Education Statistics found 7 million students aged 3-to-21 received special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) during the 2017-2018 school year.³
Around 14 percent of public school students receive special education services. These statistics show the need for accessibility in schools. The number of students protected by the IDEA has increased from 6.4 million to 7 million, from 2011 to 2018.
Under Section 504, people are protected from discriminatory behavior by academic institutions, employers, and government agencies. Qualified individuals include those that have a physical or mental impairment that impedes or inhibits a major life function, according to the Department of U.S. Health and Human Services.
There are subsequent criteria that must be met in specific situations: individuals that meet the qualification criteria are entitled to reasonable accommodations.
Defining “Reasonable Accommodations”
Reasonable accommodations allow students with disabilities to access classrooms, digital media, websites, applications, and digital documents without barriers. The legal experts at Nolo state an organization is “required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities unless doing so would pose an undue hardship.”4
Accommodations can take different forms including special accessibility software and learning portals. Accommodations take inaccessible content and make it usable for people with disabilities. These accommodations should be made for students and school employees alike.5
The Section 504 Compliance Checklist
A school looking to reach section 504 compliance can create a compliance checklist of digital platforms to find and address accessibility concerns. Each school will have different platforms to work with, but those platforms fit under similar tech groups. Examples of digital technology accessibility features in schools for your checklist include:
- Captioned videos and lectures.
- Podcast and lecture transcriptions.
- Interpreters for vision or hearing-impaired individuals.
- Format and content descriptive alternative text.
- Adjustable text size.
- Programs can be used without a mouse (touchscreens and keyboards).
- Free assistive technology like screen readers to use computers.
- Accessible PDFs.
How Does Section 504 Help Schools?
When academic institutions focus on Section 504 and ADA compliance, they provide all students access to digital platforms. Accessibility helps better engage students and increase class participation. The laws cover websites, digital apps and mobile apps for students, donors, and parents.
Web accessibility also mitigates the risk of a web accessibility lawsuit and other negative consequences associated with the disregard of ADA standards.
How can eSSENTIAL Accessibility Help?
If your school is looking for a comprehensive accessibility solution, combined with website accessibility guidance from industry pros, you can trust eSSENTIAL Accessibility for support. We help institutions and organizations meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and ADA requirements through a world-class accessibility management platform. Our clients pass accessibility audits that test WCAG, WCAG 2.0, and WCAG 2.1.
Both meeting ADA compliance and following accessibility guidelines are about more than being socially responsible or following the rules. Students with disabilities deserve an equal opportunity to learn. To learn more about accessibility software, accessibility training, and ADA accessibility, get in touch with the eSSENTIAL Accessibility team today.
- A Parent’s Guide to Section 504 in Public Schools. Great Schools, 2013
- What is the Difference Between an IEP and a 504 Plan? Washington.edu, 2019
- Children and Youth With Disabilities IES NCES, May 2019
- The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 EEOC
- Your Right to a Reasonable Accommodation Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) NOLO
- Your Rights Under Section 504 Of The Rehabilitation Act HHS.gov, June 2006