Disability advocate pushing for school districts’ websites to be ADA compliant

Posted at 8:01 PM, May 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-17 20:32:27-04

MICHIGAN -- An initiative to make school districts' websites accessible to people with disabilities is making its way around the state.

Disability advocate Marcie Lipsitt is behind the effort and said she's working to create national awareness of how inaccessible websites are to people who are blind or deaf.

"Under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), websites have to be pretty accessible to individuals who are blind and have low vision issues and are deaf and hard of hearing and have fine motor impairments and dyslexia," she explained.

Lipsitt said she started her push in 2014 and routinely takes her complaints to the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. Those complaints are against school districts, colleges, state departments and libraries.

"What people don't realize is that when you're looking at a website and you're looking at pictures on a website, if you're blind or have low vision, if there are not what we call 'alt tags,' if they're not tagged with a digital description that can be read, then someone who is blind and has no vision has no access to that," she explained.

The deaf or hard of hearing depend on closed captioning for videos.

Lipsitt said of the 56 intermediate school districts in Michigan, 47 were found to have inaccessible websites. Kent Intermediate School District told FOX 17 it's working with its 20 local school districts to move toward compliance. Kent ISD said it held a dozen in-person training sessions from August 31st to March 9th and that 83 staff members have completed online training since November. The district stated there have been one-on-one trainings and that the efforts will pick up again this fall. These are efforts Lipsitt said aren't always well received around the country.

"Along the way, there have been a few people here and there who have not been happy with my efforts. And I say the same thing to every single one, 'Everyone deserves accessibility,'" she stated.

Lipsitt said push back often involves complaints about costs for districts that are already cash-strapped, finding web designers, and the staff training required to maintain these websites.

She said the Office of Civil Rights allows a two-year timeframe for institutions to reach full compliance.