By Tamar Lewin, 2/12/15:
“Advocates for the deaf on Thursday filed a federal class action against Harvard and M.I.T., saying both universities violate antidiscrimination laws by failing to provide closed captioning in their online lectures, courses, podcasts and other educational materials.
“Much of Harvard’s online content is either not captioned or is inaccurately or unintelligibly captioned, making it inaccessible for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing,” the complaint said, echoing language used in the M.I.T. complaint. “Just as buildings without ramps bar people who use wheelchairs, online content without captions excludes individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.”
This could be a landmark case. Harvard and MIT have no excuse other than inertia for ignoring well established accessibility requirements for their online content.
Unlike the majority of Universities, these schools have the financial power to do anything they want. They have the resources to hire accessibility experts and instructional designers to do the job. Close Captioning all video in an efficient and timely manner is a huge job. But it can be done.
This statement from Harvard is ingenuous. The rules are well known:
“Jeff Neal, a spokesman for Harvard, said that while he could not comment on the litigation, Harvard expects the United States Department of Justice to issue proposed rules later this year “to provide much-needed guidance in this area,” and that the university will follow whatever rules are adopted.“
Harvard, MIT & EdX may end up causing an unexpected disruption in education: serious national attention on the rights of the disabled.