Deaf Advocates Sue Harvard, MIT For Lack of Online Closed Captioning

The National Association of the Deaf alleges that Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are violating the Americans With Disabilities Act by failing to make their online course offerings accessible to individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Advocates for the deaf and hard of hearing are suing two top-tier U.S. universities for discrimination due to lack of closed captioning in their online educational material.

Earlier this month, the National Association of the Deaf filed two class action lawsuits against Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and charged that the universities are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to caption “the vast array of online content,” including massive open online classes (MOOCs) they make available for free, NAD said in a statement.

“Online content represents the next frontier for learning and lifelong education,” NAD CEO Howard A. Rosenblum said. “Yet, both Harvard and MIT betray their legendary leadership in quality education by denying access to approximately 48 million Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

NAD, which is seeking court orders that would require the schools to provide captioning for online content, is hoping to set an example for other schools by suing Harvard and MIT first.

“Both universities have many of these videos, so we are suing them first and expect to ensure full online video access at all other universities and colleges across the country,” Rosenblum said in a video announcing the lawsuits.

Both  schools have responded to the lawsuits and have expressed interest in providing greater access to online material.

A spokesperson from Harvard also noted a need for more guidance in creating more accessibility. “Expanding access to knowledge and making online learning content accessible is of vital importance to Harvard,” Jeff Neal, a university spokesman, told Bloomberg Business. “We expect that the U.S. Department of Justice may issue proposed rules in June 2015 to provide much-needed guidance in this area.”

Meanwhile, “MIT is committed to making its educational material accessible to our students and online learners who are deaf and hearing impaired,” university spokeswoman Kimberly Allen told Bloomberg. She added that the university’s open, web-based platform, which provides most of the university’s course offerings to the public for free, offers subtitles for all new content as well as its most popular courses.

NAD succeeded in earlier litigation seeking  to make online content from digital streaming service Netflix more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing. Just over two years ago, the two groups reached an agreement in which Netflix said it would make 100 percent of its content available with closed captioning by the end of 2014.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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