Posted: 6:29 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014

Blind mom sues Seattle Public Schools

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Noel Nightingale  photo
Noel Nightingale

By Natasha Chen

SEATTLE —

A blind mom of three children attending Seattle Public Schools sued the district Wednesday for having inaccessible websites.
 
Noel Nightingale uses software that speaks text out loud, so she can navigate websites. Before 2012, she had no problem doing this with www.seattleschools.org.
 
But when the website provider changed that year, “I discovered that I couldn’t use the links that were on the home page,” she said.
 
Nightingale could no longer access the school calendar of events; find schedules, or even lunch menus. The site seemed to lack the code required for screen readers like Nightingale’s to process.
 
She said the district’s web administrator was very helpful in finding information for her, but she lacked the ability to browse independently.
 
Then, her son’s teacher said he was falling behind in math. Nightingale said she pulled up the website STmath.com to check on his progress, but this third-party website was also unreadable.
 
“By the time I discovered this problem with the math program, I then became angry,” Nightingale said.
 
She said at first she was simply frustrated, while thinking the school staff had good intentions to resolve the issue.
 
“Then as time passed, I got the impression that this was not a high priority on the list for anyone in this school district,” she said.
 
Nightingale said she spent two years talking to district staff about resolving the issue.
 
KIRO 7 asked Seattle Public Schools whether the problem was an oversight, and what might be done to fix it.
 
A spokesperson wrote:
 
“District leaders have met several times with Ms. Nightingale and have been in contact with her about the concerns over accessibility of our website. The District contracted with SchoolFusion, a web-hosting product, in 2010. Since then, SchoolFusion was acquired by BlackBoard Inc. After the acquisition, it was learned that the product was not compatible with all assistive technology, even though full ADA accessibility was included in our contract. The District hired an independent contractor in 2013 to assess the accessibility of SchoolFusion. The assessment confirmed the accessibility limitations and was provided to SchoolFusion/BlackBoard. Unfortunately, no further improvements were made to the product by BlackBoard. The District has one year left in our contract with BlackBoard and we are actively pursuing upgrades/new contracts to replace our current website hosting service. It is our goal to make sure we have a website that is family friendly and ADA accessible. Per the District’s website, the District’s webmaster is available to work with families using assistive technology to ensure families receive the information they are seeking.”

As for the problem with STmath.com, Nightingale said blind students would even be barred from doing their assignments on that site.

A school district spokesperson said it is not aware of any student being unable to use the site due to disabilities, but that staff would take steps to ensure that any such students would be able to fully participate in the educational program.    

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