A gavel rests on a keyboard. On the upper right corner, the letters CC float.The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) announced on November 27th a "landmark settlement with Harvard University that institutes a series of new guidelines to make the university's website and online resources accessible for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. The settlement represents the most comprehensive set of online accessibility requirements in higher education and ensures for the first time that Harvard will provide high-quality captioning services for online content. The settlement expands upon Harvard's new digital accessibility policy, which was announced in May. Harvard must provide captions for all online resources, including school-wide events that are live-streamed, content from department sponsored student organizations and any new university created audio or video hosted by third-party platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo and SoundCloud. The terms of the settlement are included within a consent decree, which can be enforced by the court."

The litigation with Harvard began in 2015, when a class-action lawsuit was filed in Massachusetts. "The lawsuit was prompted by the recognition that, notwithstanding the description of Harvard's online resources as available to "learners throughout the world," many of its videos and audio recordings lacked captions or used inaccurate captions. Harvard had no published policies in place to ensure these learning tools were accessible to people who are deaf and hard of hearing."

Through the litigation, Harvard filed two motions to dismiss the case. In response to each, the court ruled that federal laws prohibiting disability discrimination covered Harvard's online content. After these rulings were issued, Harvard announced its new digital accessibility policy, and several months later, the parties reached a settlement.

Harvard announced that it will start captioning new content created on or after December 1 on its website. The settlement requires Harvard to caption existing content posted on or after January 2019 within two years. "For any content not already captioned, upon receiving a request, Harvard must caption the content within five business days... Harvard must also implement a public process to manage these requests. Harvard is also required to submit reports every six months beginning in June 2020 to the NAD and the Disability Law Center with information about the number of requests received and any changes made to these policies, among other details."

The lawsuit against Harvard is one of many lawsuits filed against educational institutions in the US for failing to comply with Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). NAD also sued the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This lawsuit has not been settled yet. A year ago, Jason Camacho, a blind resident of Brooklyn, NY, sued 50 high education institutions because of the lack of accessibility of their websites. University of Phoenix, Miami University, edX Inc., Youngstown State University, University of Montana, University of Colorado, University of Cincinnati, Louisiana Tech University, and many more, have been sued due to lack of accessibility on their websites. 

The proliferation of these lawsuits highlights the importance of online accessibility to make possible the inclusion of people with disabilities in society. An expectation is that accessibility will become an integral element of online resources, and, hopefully in the future, this type of lawsuits won't be necessary to make equal access a reality for people with disabilities.



- “National Association of the Deaf Announces Landmark Settlement With Harvard To Improve Online Accessibility.” National Association of the Deaf, Noviembre 27, 2019, https://www.nad.org/2019/11/27/national-association-of-the-deaf-announces-landmark-settlement-with-harvard-to-improve-online-accessibility/

- “NAD Sues Harvard and MIT for Discrimination in Public Online Content.” National Association of the Deaf, Febrero 12, 2015, https://www.nad.org/2015/02/17/nad-sues-harvard-and-mit-for-discrimination-in-public-online-content/

- “50 Colleges Hit With ADA Lawsuits” Diciembre 20, 2018, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/12/10/fifty-colleges-sued-barrage-ada-lawsuits-over-web-accessibility

- “Higher Education ADA Web Accessibility Lawsuit Repository.” Audioeye, Diciembre 16, 2015, https://www.audioeye.com/blog/higher-education-ada-web-accessibility-lawsuit-repository/  


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