OCR, Part 1: An Overview of OCR and How Accessibility Laws Apply to Digital Accessibility in Higher Education

October 14, 2021

This webinar was not recorded.


Mary Lou Mobley, National Disability Expert and Co-Lead of National Digital Accessibility Team

Amy Kim, Senior Attorney

Learning Outcomes

At the end of this presentation, learners will be able to:

  • Recognize the types of accessibility complaints and issues being filed with OCR.
  • Understand how OCR will work with school, universities, and libraries to resolve digital accessibility cases.
  • Be prepared to respond to digital accessibility concerns and increase accessibility and usability in its online programs and activities.


This summary is written by NWHeat committee member Gloria Doherty.

The U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), is responsible for enforcing two federal civil rights laws that address the rights of individuals with disabilities: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which applies to entities that receive federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education; Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which applies to public entities. OCR shares responsibility with the Department of Justice in enforcement of Title II.

The majority of complaints come from individuals and are predominantly regarding public-facing websites. Other complaints are commonly about learning management systems and instructional content.

In 2019 OCR established a national website accessibility team, known as the National Digital Access Team, to investigate complaints and provide educational institutions and public libraries with technical resources to resolve accessibility issues. The focus is a resolution process, which is unique in the Federal Government. It is a streamlined and very collaborative process designed to be transparent, consistent, and help institutions resolve cases with more resources. OCR receives complaints at the 12 regional offices. These complaints are sent to the National Digital Access Team, which is a centrally managed group that includes attorneys, staff members, and IT consultants. The National Digital Access Team creates a collaborative team with the educational institution or public library involved in the complaint in order to provide strategies to resolve issues in a consistent, timely and efficient manner. The collaborative team can brainstorm ideas, and share problem-solving strategies and techniques. The team conducts in-depth reviewing and offers comprehensive technical solutions that members of the educational institution or public library can use to resolve the accessibility issue.

For example:

When investigating websites, testing would focus on the source of the complaint and other high-visibility pages, for example:

  • Website Home page
  • Admissions
  • Athletics (if institution has robust athletic program)
  • Library
  • Disability Services
  • Videos
  • Popular pages (i.e., most frequently visited)
  • One PDF (e.g., a guide, handbook, grievance procedures)
  • Web accessibility notice or statement; how to report an issue
  • Confirm the architecture being used for the website design
    • Identify 4-5 commonly used templates, if templates are being used in the website’s design
    • If the website is using a more flexible structure: does it demonstrate informed decisions based on commonly shared practices and variance when appropriate
    • Identify some academic department pages to determine how they are designed in the website structure (e.g., templates, guidelines for layout and content).

Automated checkers should not be the sole means of testing. Manual testing should be used in order to identify accessibility deficiencies that autocheckers cannot detect (e.g., issues with access through exclusive keyboard use).

Automated checkers can produce false positives or negatives. Manual testing delivers the best results.

Over 90 percent of issues are resolved quickly. If the issue cannot be resolved quickly, the OCR asks the institution to enter into a resolution agreement and give a report. The team can also collaboratively develop a protocol to prevent the issue from recurring. The National Digital Access Team places value on developing a relationship that encourages institutions to approach them for assistance going forward.

Any institution is invited to engage the National Digital Access Team for resources. Contact the presenters or send correspondence to OCRWebAccessTA@ed.gov