MIT, Other Universities Settle Closed Captioning Suits

April 13, 2020

A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit against Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), alleging that their website was inaccessible to people with hearing disabilities. The lawsuit filed by the National Association for the Deaf in 2015, states that video and audio content included inadequate or no closed captioning, and therefore violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Months earlier, Harvard University settled a similar 2015 lawsuit in which it also did not provide closed captioning for videos of lectures and other programs on its website. The universities did not admit they were not in violation of the law or committed wrongdoing.

Under the settlements, each university agreed to provide captioning for video and audio, including live events publicly streamed on their websites. Additionally, the universities will provide a process for the public to request captioning of website content or report inadequate captioning, give training to staff on captioning content, and report compliance progress every six months to the National Association of the Deaf.

Other universities have faced similar lawsuits for not making their websites and content accessible to people with disabilities. In another suit, the University of California, Berkeley was ordered by the Justice Department to provide captioning for its public videos. The university opted instead to bypass the order by removing the videos from public view.

The importance of accessibility in education has become even more apparent with the continual growth of distance learning, and with the reliance upon it during current times. Educational institutions must provide the accommodations to ensure that students with disabilities have the same access to online courses and content, as those without disabilities.

In addition to being made aware of the law, educators should be trained and understand not only how courses can be made accessible, but why. The thinking among instructors is frequently that a course does not need to be accessible unless a student with disabilities is enrolled in it. Aside from the illegalities of that approach, it does not take into account that many students choose not to disclose their disabilities and are often not obligated to do so.

Offering accessible education not only allows universities and other learning institutions to be in compliance the law, but also improves on the success of their students with and without disabilities.

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