The US Department of Justice has found the University of California at Berkeley to be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, stating that the school has not made all of its free course content and lectures that are available on online platforms fully accessible to individuals who have hearing, visual, or manual impairments.
In a statement, the Department of Justice discussed its investigation into the accessibility of the school’s free audio and video content available to the public through its YouTube channel and iTunes U platform, in addition to the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that it offers through the edX learning management platform. It states that all people who have any form of disability should be able to access all services, programs, or activities available through public entities such as UC Berkeley.
The investigation was opened after a complaint was received by the department arguing that the “free, publicly available online content” provided by the school could not be accessed by individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. After speaking with representatives for the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), the group who made the complaint, the department determined that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing would have a difficult time using the content because the majority of it would be inaccessible to them. For example, videos were found without captions, rendering them completely useless to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
In response to these findings, the University has asked campus experts to consider the best course of action. In a statement, the school said that while it does intend to openly work with the department with regards to its ADA compliance, it adds that because of budgetary constraints it may not be able to continue to offer the same extent of free public content under the conditions that the Department of Justice is asking for as it had previously.
The statement continues to say that the department is asking for the school to “implement extremely expensive measures” in order to continue to offer free resources to the general public. However, the University states that as it faces “substantial budget deficits and shrinking state financial support,” its resources would better go toward the support of students enrolled at the school. Because of this, the school said that it must consider no longer allow the public to access its content.
“Please know that we fully intend to exhaust every available option to retain or restore free public availability of online content. It is our hope that we will find an appropriate resolution with the Department of Justice that allows us to serve the extended seeing- and hearing-impaired community and continue to provide free online content.”
In order to remedy the situation, the department is asking the school to develop a system that will monitor compliance with the technical standards that have been adopted in the University of California’s Information Technology Accessibility Policy. In addition, procedures must be developed to ensure that individuals with disabilities are able to access all online resources on all platforms that the information is provided on.
The department is also requesting that the school pay compensatory damages to individuals who received any injuries as a result of the school’s failure to comply with title II.