[Athen] In the NEW YORK TIMES
vasquez at sbcc.edu
Thu Feb 12 09:19:06 PST 2015
Advocates for the deaf on Thursday filed a federal class action against
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.”
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.
A spokeswoman for M.I.T. said the university was committed to making its
materials accessible to its students and online learners who are
hearing-impaired, and includes captioning in all new course videos and its
most popular online courses.
The case highlights the increasingly important role of online materials in
M.I.T. and Harvard have extensive materials available free online, on
platforms like YouTube, iTunesU, Harvard at Home and MIT OpenCourseWare. In
addition, the two universities are the founding partners of edX, a
nonprofit that offers dozens of MOOCs, or massive open online courses, free
to students around the world.
The complaints say Harvard and M.I.T. violated both the Americans With
Disabilities Act <http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/disability/ada.htm>and the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and seek a permanent injunction requiring them
to provide closed captioning — which provides a text version of the words
being spoken — for their online materials. Despite repeated requests by the
association, the complaints say, the two universities provide captioning in
only a fraction of the materials, “and even then, inadequately.”
The lawsuits, filed by the National Association of the Deaf, say the
universities have “largely denied access to this content to the
approximately 48 million — nearly one out of five — Americans who are deaf
or hard of hearing.”
Bill Lann Lee, the Oakland, Calif., lawyer who represented the association
along with lawyers from several disability rights groups, said the
association thought that because Harvard and M.I.T. have been leaders in
putting university content online, a change in their practices would have
impact on other universities’ policies.
Last year, the association filed a lawsuit against Netflix, saying the
company’s failure to provide closed captioning on its streaming video
content violated the antidiscrimination laws. The case was settled with an
agreement that Netflix would provide captioning on all of its on-demand
streaming content by Sept. 30, 2014.
Similarly, in 2013, the association announced that it was working with
Apple on captioning the iTunes library of television and movie offerings so
that every title would have closed captioning or subtitles by June 2015.
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