Advocate Moves Needle on Website Accessibility

Every year, thousands of complaints flow into the office tasked with investigating disability discrimination for the U.S. Department of Education.

This year, Marcie Lipsitt, a special education advocate from Michigan, has been responsible for about 500 of those complaints—and counting.

Lipsitt's focus is on the websites of school districts and other educational institutions, which she says widely disregard the needs of users who are blind or visually impaired, or who cannot use a mouse to navigate a page. Other website problems she has spotted include videos with no captions, or text and background color combinations that are a strain for people with low vision.

Her letters have gotten results. In June, the Education Department's office for civil rights announced that it had entered into settlement agreements over website accessibility with schools, districts, and departments of education in seven states and in Guam.

All of those complaints originated with Lipsitt, who fires off at least a couple of letters a day from her home in Franklin, 20 miles outside Detroit.

"I have nothing to lose but time and sleep," said Lipsitt, who squeezes in the letters in addition to her work as a lay advocate, helping families with special education disputes.

But Lipsitt, who is not visually impaired, said this is about more than being a prolific gadfly.

The proposed regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act say that, in many cases, placing information on a website is sufficient for states and districts to meet public reporting requirements. But what use is it to the public if that essential information can't be read by everyone? Lipsitt and other advocates want the regulations to state that if states and districts are allowed to use their websites as the equivalent of a town crier, then those sites should be usable for everyone.

"If those final regulations don't include web accessibility, then shame on everyone," Lipsitt said.

Education Week