Dept of Justice, edX Reach Agreement to Improve Access to MOOCs


Online course provider edX, a platform offering MOOCs by Harvard and MIT, allegedly violated federal law by not making its platform accessible to the blind, deaf and others with physical disabilities.

The US Department of Justice announced a settlement in which edX in four years time will improve its online content, website and mobile applications to make them accessible and user-friendly for everyone.

The National Federation of the Blind applauds the settlement of the DoJ with edX. In a press release, the NFB stated:

“We applaud this landmark settlement agreement, which sends a clear message to providers of online courses and educational technology that their content and services must be accessible to students with disabilities.”

Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said:

“We commend the United States Department of Justice for its commitment to equal access for all students, and we commend edX for agreeing to take the needed steps to provide that access.”

The Dept. of Justice settlement agreement with edX resolves the allegations of discrimination under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It does not, however, carry a fine for the online course provider. Anant Agarwal, edX chief executive, said in a statement about the agreement:

 “At edX, we seek to understand and respect the unique needs and perspectives of our global community of learners. Our vision — quality education for everyone, everywhere — can only be achieved when our site is accessible to all users, including people with disabilities.”

The settlement comes at a time when Harvard is being sued by the National Association of the Deaf for alleged discrimination against the deaf and the hard of hearing. Both MIT and Harvard do not provide captioning for their online content provided through edX and other platforms.

 “Harvard and MIT are leaders in the movement among universities to put a lot of content online,” Bill Lann Lee, one of the lawyers representing the National Association of The Deaf has said in Febryary. “The objective of the National Association of the Deaf is to make sure that, with respect to this burgeoning area of education…deaf people not be left out.”

The lawsuit accuses Harvard of  allegedly violating the Rehabilitation Act and the American with Disabilities Act which require that educational institutions receiving federal money provide equal access to their material for all individuals.

edX is a non-profit digital platform created in 2012 by Harvard and MIT and offers free online courses and certification to individuals enrolling and completing its courses. Today, edX numbers over 60 educational institutions as its members and offers more than 450 MOOCs.

Harvard and MIT have recently evaluated the two-year running venture, concluding “that overall participation in our MOOCs remains substantial and that the average growth has been steady.”