ADA accessibility guidelines for public schools

  • 28.10.2020

Education is a human right that everyone should be able to enjoy. In the United States, it is a state and local responsibility.

In 1997, President Bill Clinton declared the following in his State of the Union Address, “We cannot expect our children to raise themselves in schools that are literally falling down.” Because most of America’s public schools were built to accommodate the Baby Boom generation, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the U S Department of Education reported that buildings had an average age of 44 years as of 2016. Alarmingly, students are learning their lessons in structures that are swiftly becoming obsolete.

ADA compliance

The landmark civil rights law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990. This is a legislation that acknowledges and protects the right to access of individuals with disabilities and under Title II of this law, public schools are covered as one of America’s prominent public entities. Since they are covered by the ADA, schools must then adhere to basic ADA requirements.

The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design released by the U S Department of Justice a decade ago concerns facilities covered by Titles II and III of the ADA. As the name implies, it outlines general information for the construction of public accommodations with focus on how to to make areas more accessible especially for people with disabilities. Even though a lot of schools were built before the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, this doesn’t excuse old buildings from having to adhere to these guidelines. If anything, the ADA points out how they must be accessible since they were built during a time when such considerations for public accommodations were not yet enshrined in the law.

Accessibility requirements

Access for wheelchairs

Some of the basic design standards in the ADA are the adjustments that must be applied to accommodate wheelchairs in facilities.

The Education for All Handicapped Children Act was originally enacted in 1975. Since 1990, it was renamed to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by the Bush administration. Under the IDEA, young people with disabilities have the right to free public schooling as well as avail special education services that can cater to their specific needs. According to data from the NCES, as of the 2019 school year, 14% of public school students at the state and local level had some form of disability. This figure only highlights the pressing need for every school to be ADA compliant. Hallways, entryways, and other forms of passages must have a clearance width of at least 32 inches to be accessible for individuals who use wheelchairs. Restroom stalls must also have an area of at least 25 square feet for easy wheelchair maneuvering. These are only some of the ways that a school must be accessible for a student with this type of disability.

Website accessibility

Since a school may also have a website, it is also necessary for this online presence to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

In 2018, the US Department of Justice affirmed their position that website accessibility is covered by the ADA. Further, in 2017, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was updated to require compliance with the WCAG. This particular section deals with access to electronic information technology. The revision means that although private businesses falling under Title III of the ADA are not yet mandated to refer to the WCAG, public schools need to since they are public entities. Courts are also increasingly referring to the WCAG’s recommendations in lawsuits filed for ADA violations. School website or not, it would be good practice for online pages to make it their own gold standard for accessibility.

One of the techniques recommended in the WCAG that can make pages more accessible is the skip to content function. With this kind of feature, users may be able to navigate to the section of a page they need to get to much easier. Considering the amount of information that must be shared in school, this can provide more accessible services to students. One such example of these services is the sharing of documents online.

Now that we are in the midst of a pandemic, it is more convenient to avail of information on the internet instead of in person. Online, people may see the information they need in the form of documents which must also be compliant to the ADA. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act includes the rights of a person with disability to accessible materials like documents in PDF format. It was the first civil rights law to afford specific privileges to people with disabilities.

One way for a document to be compliant is with the use of alt text. Sometimes, for information to be encoded online, physical documents are scanned and saved as a PDF file and because the text are stored in image format, individuals who might use screen readers will not have this information read to them. To be compliant with the ADA, documents must provide alternative text that basically necessitates retyping the content and formatting it to become an invisible description of the images.

Contact us

Should you require more information or have any questions regarding ADA regulations, you can access the following pages of the U S Department of Justice:

  • Home Page:
  • Privacy Policy:
  • En Español:

The ADA GOV page also provides this toll-free line should you wish to file an ADA complaint: 800-514-0301 (voice).

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