UC Berkeley agrees to make online content available to settle DOJ lawsuit

A quick dive:

  • University of California, Berkeley concluded an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to make its free Internet content accessible to people with hearing, vision and hand disabilities, the agency said Monday.
  • The proposed consent decree would settle allegations that UC Berkeley violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by making its free online content inaccessible to people with disabilities. This includes content on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, and the UC BerkeleyX platform, which offers dozens of MOOCs.
  • The settlement is pending court approval. If UC Berkeley gets the green light, it will make all future content and the “vast majority” of existing content available. The University will also hire an Internet Accessibility Coordinator and train relevant accessibility workers.

Dive Insight:

Although the settlement affects only one university, it may indicate that the Justice Department will closely monitor whether higher education institutions provide accessible content.

Inaccessibility problems are widespread at UC Berkeley, the lawsuit says. For example, much online content—such as YouTube videos—has automatic captioning, resulting in subtitles with incorrect grammar and subtitles that are sometimes impossible to understand, according to complaint of the Ministry of Justice. This can make content inaccessible to hearing impaired people who rely on written captions.

The university’s online visual content often does not include alternative text or audio description, making it inaccessible to the visually impaired. Some of its content contains links that are not accessible from a keyboard, making it difficult for people who rely on screen readers to navigate the institution’s website.

The California Institute at Berkeley has gone to great lengths to make existing online content accessible.

In 2021, a UC Berkeley investigation of 10 MOOCs found them to be inaccessible to people with various disabilities. In the same year, an investigation also found that more than 20,000 university videos on YouTube were not subtitled or were subtitled automatically, and that the vast majority of their content on Apple Podcasts did not offer alternative formats such as transcripts.

Under the agreement, UC Berkeley will have 3 1/2 years to make the changes. This will include revising its accessibility policy and hiring an independent auditor to determine whether its content is accessible.

“By adopting this consent decree, UC Berkeley will make its content accessible to many people with disabilities who want to participate and access the same online educational opportunities available to people without disabilities.” — Kristen Clark, Assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the statement said.

UC Berkeley did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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