Civil Rights Laws & Helpful Guidelines

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Summary: Civil rights laws exist that protect the rights of people with disabilities. When these laws are followed, people with disabilities have more access to opportunities that allow them to live closer to their potential. 


On this page:


When striving to meet best practices in accessibility, it is useful to have a standard to learn from and benchmark work against. Understanding the difference between the two makes the choice to follow WCAG 2.0 clear.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. Title II of the ADA requires that State and local governments (including the U of M) give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities.

Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Section 504 states that "no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under" any program or activity that either receives Federal financial assistance...".

Section 508 defines some of what it means for "information and communucation technology" (ICT) to be accessible. 

The ICT standards of Section 508 are currently in a delayed rulemaking process that isn't expected to be final until sometime in 2017. 

WCAG 2.0

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

WCAG 2.0 AA success criteria exceed Section 508 requirements and are fast becoming the international standard for accessibility. They are also the standard for digital accessibility at the U.

How to implement WCAG 2.0

The W3C presents information in several ways:

Most people prefer the at-a-glance version. Allow yourself time to learn these guidelines; they are extensive and comprehensive.

The How to Meet WCAG 2.0 Quick Reference allows you to turn off sections so the page only displays information relevant to your current goals. Remember, the longest journey begins with one step. You can do this!

Settlement agreements

The U of M is committed to creating an inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone. Digital accessibility is becoming a larger part of that commitment. This commitment is the driving force behind this site and accessibility work happening across the U. The U's expectation is that we all be working toward improved digital accessibility.

And it's important to note that higher education institutions across the country have had complaints filed against them for the inaccessibility of their digital resources.

Many of these complaints have resulted in settlement agreements between the institutions and either the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights or the U.S. Department of Justice, both of which share enforcement responsibilities for the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The University of Minnesota Duluth maintains a fairly comprehensive list of those settlement agreements.

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