Harvard and M.I.T. Sued for Inadequate Closed Captioning for Online Classes

Photo courtesy of Daderot, Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this month, several disability advocate groups such as the Disability Law Center of Massachusetts and the National Association of the Deaf filed a lawsuit against Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the lack of, and inadequate use of, closed captioning in their online courses, lectures and other material.

According to The New York Times, the schools are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, both of which require colleges to provide closed captioning options for deaf students.

“Just as buildings without ramps bar people who use wheelchairs, online content without captions excludes individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing,” said the lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts by the National Association of the Deaf, as reported by The Boston Globe.

Both schools have failed to comment on the litigation they are about to face; however, Jeff Neal, spokesman for Harvard, said that Harvard is prepared to follow any and all rules given by the Justice Department, which they hope, will “provide much-needed guidance in this area.”

According to the Boston Globe, disability advocates have targeted Harvard and M.I.T. because they are both globally recognized frontrunners when it comes to Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), which provide education to all of the public — not just to enrolled students.

“We think they’re in the best position to make the necessary changes and, when they do, it will send a powerful message to all other colleges and universities as we enter an era when online education is becoming the norm, and not the exception," Christine M. Griffin, executive director of the Disability Law Center in Boston and a co-counsel in the case, told The Boston Globe. 

In other words, they hope this case will not only convince Harvard and M.I.T. to adopt proper closed captioning across all of their educational materials and courses, but will also inspire other colleges that lack these services to reconsider their attitudes and make changes to better implement closed captioning in their educational offerings.

So how does Ramapo College stack up in regards to offering closed captioning in its courses? Student Omer Seven felt the closed captioning and disability services offered by Ramapo are great.

“We were one of the first colleges in the nation to actively have services available to disabled students,” Seven said. “Our bathrooms are designed for wheelchairs, as well as our hallways, and likewise, the closed captioning options available at Ramapo College are sufficient and provide those who suffer from deafness a chance to learn.”           

The Office of Specialized Services also readily helps students registered with them, giving them the chance to take courses via the computer with closed captioning, so those who are deaf can excel.