This is a crummy situation and I don’t know what to do about it. But what’s clear is that everyone in this situation is a loser.
What happened is that the University of California at Berkeley provided free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to students, a real bonus to those who lacked either funds or mobility to attend the school. The problem was that, as the Department of Justice determined after a complaint, most of these courses had no captions or sign language for deaf people. This is from the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center:
The Department [of Justice] reviewed MOOCs through the UC BerkeleyX platform and determined that some videos were not captioned, documents were not formatted for those who use screen readers, and assorted other issues. Upon a sampling of the YouTube platforms, the Department found a number of barriers to access, including for example automatically generated captions that were inaccurate and incomplete, did not provide non-visual description of the content, or were not contrasted properly for those with visual impairments. Finally, the Department reviewed a sampling of Berkeley’s iTunes U platform and found that none of the videos reviewed were closed captioned, and none provided an alternative format to the visual information contained into the videos.
The Department concluded that Berkeley has violated accessibility requirements. Specifically, the Department found that Berkeley “is in violation of title II because significant portions of its online content are not provided in an accessible manner when necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with hearing, vision or manual disabilities. In addition, Berkeley’s administrative methods have not ensured that individuals with disabilities have an equal opportunity to use Berkeley’s online content.” Along with its findings, the Department presented a list of six remedial measures that Berkeley must take to ensure accessibility in the future.
This is what one calls a “Pyrrhic victory”, for nobody wins. Deaf people don’t get access to the courses (unless Berkeley finds the resources to fix them, and remember that they were free), and neither does anybody else. It’s entirely possible that these courses, and others like them, will simply vanish. Is that good?
The one good aspect of this, I think, is that it calls attention to the needs of those who are hearing-impaired (we haven’t even considered the blind), so that those who have the resources should make their courses accessible to all.
But if that can’t be done for lack of resources, what is the solution? I don’t know, but taking all the courses offline for the interim seems a lousy solution