Special Education

Seattle Settles Lawsuit Over Ed-Tech Accessibility

By Michele Molnar — October 01, 2015 3 min read
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Cross-posted from Marketplace K-12

Seattle will take several steps to make the ed-tech used in its schools accessible to blind students, faculty, and parents, in the settlement of a lawsuit brought against the district by Noel Nightingale and her co-plaintiff, the National Federation of the Blind.

The potentially landmark agreement, which was signed on Sept. 25, comes after Nightingale, a blind mother of three Seattle students, filed a lawsuit in 2014 because she did not have equal access to information on the district’s websites and a math program. The National Federation of the Blind is a co-plaintiff in the case.

Nightingale originally brought the issue to the attention of Seattle schools in 2012, according to a briefing for the school board on the issue. The district’s website provider indicated that it could not fully resolve the issues.

The consent decree resolves the matter between the district and the plaintiffs. In the decree, the district agrees to:

  • Make its websites accessible to blind people through existing technology;
  • Hire or appoint an accessibility coordinator;
  • Conduct an accessibility audit of the district’s technology, programs, services, and activities, and develop a remediation plan for any issues uncovered in the audit;
  • Create and maintain an “accessible education resources” portal to help faculty and staff communicate effectively with people with disabilities and ensure accessibility of educational content, and to provide information about disability policies and services to students, faculty, and parents with disabilities;
  • Add language to the system’s procurement requests and contracts requiring vendors to provide specific information about the compliance of their products and services with federal laws (such as the Americans With Disabilities Act) and accessibility guidelines, and requiring vendors to indemnify the school system for discrimination complaints resulting from inaccessibility of their products; and
  • Train district officers, school administrators, faculty, and other key personnel on applicable laws, electronic and information technology accessibility guidelines, and the creation of accessible content.

According to the board’s briefing on the issue, the cost to implement the decree is estimated to be between $665,400 and $815,400 over its three-and-a-half year term, including $385,000 to hire an accessibility coordinator, and $150,000 for an audit and corrective action plan. Web accessibility testing has been budgeted at $90,000, and another $105,000 will be needed to train the staff designated in the agreement.

The anticipated costs also include one-time reimbursement of attorney’s fees of $80,412, and paying $5,000 in damages to Nightingale.

The National Federation of the Blind, which has in the past lodged lawsuits against higher education on similar issues, applauded the decision by Seattle schools in what it called “a landmark agreement” at the K-12 level.

In a statement, the nonprofit called Seattle’s actions a series of “historic steps” to ensure that all of their electronic and information technology will be fully and equally accessible to students, faculty, and parents who are blind.

“This landmark agreement with the Seattle Public Schools should serve as a model for the nation and should put school districts on notice that we can no longer wait to have equal education for blind students and to have access to information, use of school services, and full participation in school activities by blind faculty, personnel, and parents,” said Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation, in the statement released by his Baltimore-based organization.

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.