UC Berkeley cancels free online courses because they weren’t accessible to the deaf

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.

You can see the DOJ’s letter here. In response, it appears that the courses will be taken down until (and if) UC Berkeley finds ways to satisfy the requirements.

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



  1. Posted October 6, 2016 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    “A lousy solution”£; I’m at least half-deaf, and I agree

  2. wildhog
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    How far are we from seeing classes canceled because the material is too hard for the mentally challenged?

    • mordacious1
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      I took a logic course online from Oxford a while back and didn’t complete it. Perhaps the courses should be removed, because they lacked enough stimuli to engage the motivation impaired or the effort challenged.

      • Christopher Bonds
        Posted October 6, 2016 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I taught at a public college in the US for many years, and often had the impression that many of the students expected their profs to motivate them.

        In a perfect world, teacher and student should be equally motivated. The sense of discovery should be keen in both of them. Even though the teacher knows the material, there is still the joy of seeing the enthusiasm and eureka moments of the motivated student.

        • Filippo
          Posted October 6, 2016 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

          ” . . . often had the impression that many of the students expected their profs to motivate them.”

          To my mind this expectation is evidence of the continued juvenilization of college. It is becoming more like high (if not also middle) school.

  3. jay
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    This gets totally crazy. My wife works at a university and one of her jobs is to maintain ‘accessibility’ standards. It’s really a tough job when there are lots of sources of different data that needs to be posted for events etc.

    They can’t even risk a temporary posting because there are lawyers out there with automated scanning which are constantly looking for something to launch an ADA suit over.

    Ultimately, the fault of this problem is the government and their mindless pursuit of mythical ‘equality’ down to every microscopic detail. They screw it up for everyone.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      So yor solution is what — to go back to the good old days before the ADA?

      Certainly, there may be abuses — and situations such as this, where the antinomies involved result in an unfortunate stalemate. But I for one am glad that there are advocates for the disabled who monitor our public institutions for compliance.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:23 am | Permalink


      • jay
        Posted October 7, 2016 at 5:19 am | Permalink

        The structure of this lawsuit-based enforcement makes it a ambulance chaser’s goldmine. It’s much better to remove the profit motive from the enforcement (like with fire regulations

        [BTW my wife has a disability and we are not insensitive to reasonable needs of accommodation]

    • p.puk
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      Penn and Teller did a take on the ADA in their series “Bullshit.”

      Here are som highlights:


      • Posted October 6, 2016 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        Yes. A strawman in an iron lung as I recall.

      • Flemur
        Posted October 7, 2016 at 10:57 am | Permalink

        Braille on a drive-up ATM …

        • Posted October 7, 2016 at 11:31 am | Permalink

          I used to think that was because it was just cheaper to make all the ATM keyboards the same, whether they’re for drive up or walk up.

          Actually, it’s because the person using the ATM might not be the driver, but the passenger.

          What a lot of people on this thread are missing is that it’s about reasonable accommodations. We can quibble over what reasonable means, but just because we can’t make everything available to everyone doesn’t mean we don’t make available what we can.

  4. busterggi
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Nothing saves a village like burning it to the ground.

    • jay
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      But it achieves ‘equality’ which is more important than anything else in our current climate.

      • madscientist
        Posted October 6, 2016 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

        That’s right – when we’re all impaired by law then perhaps the genuinely impaired will have much improved job prospects. It’s rulings like this which instill me with much contempt and little respect for the legal profession and the court system.

        • JAY
          Posted October 7, 2016 at 5:36 am | Permalink

          So you are suggesting that resources for others (including financially limited folks) be cut back to make them more equal?

          Let’s make everyone equally disadvantaged, that fixes it.

        • Posted October 7, 2016 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

          Like in “Harrison Bergeron”.

  5. Randall Schenck
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    I don’t agree with this action and very briefly will say why. What ever happened to the greater good. Lots of people will miss the opportunity because they cannot get the program to the deaf. Maybe they will be able to later.

    I’ll bet there are also many people who cannot take advantage because they do not have computers or access or for other reasons. So do we provide nothing while all that gets worked out. No.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      Whatever one does there will be someone, somewhere who can’t take advantage of it.

      Obviously all university courses will have to be cancelled instantly because they cannot be easily comprehended by a blind, deaf, one-legged geriatric with an IQ of 50 who only speaks some Siberian dialect. Or dolphins.

      (This comment not accessible to sight-impaired, non-English-speakers, or people who don’t have computers)


      • Wunold
        Posted October 7, 2016 at 12:48 am | Permalink

        Well said. I wondered if they will cancel all sports courses until they are accessible for people with disabilities of any possible kind.

  6. Cameron
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    I was in a library the other day and noticed that there weren’t copies of every single book readily available in brail. I believe that every single library on Continental North America should be closed until this problem is solved. If a small group can’t get access to everything no one should! Not only that. I was in the grocery store the other day and they didn’t have the coffee I like, so I say shut every grocery store down till they all carry the exact same stock in every single grocery store all of the time!

    • busterggi
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      And that includes audiobooks as well – Braille of nothing!

    • Christopher
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

      There is access to braille books for free via APH, the American Printing House, out of Louisville, KY,(founded, 1858) which was funded by a congressional mandate in 1879 (the Act to Promote the Education of the Blind) in order to provide reading materials for the blind and visually impaired. This, along with free shipping of braille print materials and braille equipment for the blind by the USPS, is one way that the US Govt. has been addressing this issue but without much fanfare. While I have no idea how many books in braille are available, probably not every single one printed each year, of course, but it’s a great resource, and many libraries can also do inter-library loan to get certain titles. Another great thing is that there are unknown thousands of volunteer braille transcriptionists who take it upon themselves to adapt print into braille.

      Not that this should take away from your point; I just thought you and others should know.

  7. Posted October 6, 2016 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    No, this doesn’t look great. Making the perfect the enemy of the good.
    MOOCs are just such a boon to the world. And you have to appreciate the academics who set them up. Taking one now: ‘Religion & Conflict’. Huge range of abilities, viewpoints, expertise, countries and experiences in the participants. What could be better?

    • Posted October 10, 2016 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

      It turns out a lot could be better about the MOOC course ‘Religion & Conflict’.

      I am now into week 2 and have completed 34 exercises. Still, we have not been presented with any statistical data on religious-related conflict. As far as I am aware, I am the only commenter who has presented numbers on the trends in violence.

      There are some fascinating people on the course, a young female secularist from Luxor in Egypt, a charming young Muslim who can’t believe there is such a thing as an atheist, a Chinese person completely bemused by monotheism and a Middle East security academic who cannot see any link between the doctrines of Islam and Hamas.

      The two extra-mural experts on religion are theologians, in the Karen Armstrong-mode. Religion is good or it has no effect on the world. And the moderators are threatening to kick me off the course for ‘breaking the code of conduct’ and not examining my assumptions.

      Guess which Faculty is running this course.

  8. Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    I’m a certified accessibility professional. In the US, the relevant law on this matter is Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. And Section 508 explicitly states that you can make an argument for non-compliance based on cost.

    IOW: Berkeley had the option to leave everything as-is until they complied with the finding, within what the court regarded as a reasonable time frame.

    That they chose not to do so indicates that they’re more interested in taking a propaganda victory than in keeping the courses online.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      Up to a point I agree, but I also wonder if UC Berkeley was prosecuted because of their size and to make an example of them.

      I think the classes should be made available to as wide a range of people as possible. At the same time it must be noted that these classes are being provided for free and so the University is making nothing out of them and probably losing money. Should the paying students have to subsidize the on-line ones? I don’t know.

      There will be some classes too where it’s impossible, or at least extremely difficult, to make them fully accessible with current technology. That should be taken into consideration.

      UC Berkeley probably think, “Here we were trying to do a good thing and we get kicked in the teeth for it. What about all those universities doing nothing in this area?” And who can blame them.

      So while I generally support making the classes more accessible, this is clearly a lose-lose situation. I suspect the authorities could have been much more reasonable in their ruling, but I also suspect they were loathe to set a precedent.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 6, 2016 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

        “UC Berkeley probably think, “Here we were trying to do a good thing and we get kicked in the teeth for it.”

        Absolutely. They may have neither the time, the money or the resources to translate their courses into every possible format.

        I’ve stuck a few pages up on the Web from time to time – odd things like ‘How to fix noisy hydraulic tappets on a Mazda’ – with photos, for free and because I couldn’t find anything specific on the topic by Googling. I made the effort because it seemed like a good idea. (I’ve even got a couple of ‘thank you’ emails, which made it worth while). If someone had told me in advance I would have to make them ‘accessible’ because blind DIY mechanics, I would just have said ‘sod that’ and not bothered.


    • bharath272
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      Knowing how underfunded Berkeley is, it is very likely that they simply do not have the resources to make the content accessible and simply decided that they could not comply with the court order. (I was a graduate student at Berkeley when some of the first online courses went up)

    • Kathleen
      Posted October 8, 2016 at 4:03 am | Permalink

      Thank you so much, ericscoles, for adding this comment, as knowing that Berkeley had this option changes the situation entirely. I hope Jerry finds to the time to do a follow-up that considers this specific point, as it needs to be more widely known.

  9. Joseph Stans
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Lets not forget yet another underclass of disabled people: those in a comma.

    • Alpha Neil
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      Better than being in a colon.

      • Joseph Stans
        Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:15 am | Permalink

        And yet another overlooked underclass. 😉

  10. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I can agree that the courses should be made available for the hearing and visually impaired, but isn’t it easy to do that? For example, can’t a university like Berkeley hire a few people who can use sign language for the hearing impaired?

    • jay
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      This is not as easy as it sounds. And it’s not just the deaf, but the visually impaired.

      You have thousands of documents in various forms acquired over the years. Some have text, some don’t. Some cannot be scanned by a reading program. Even the layout on the page is critical. The cost of handling all those historic documents would b astronomical.

  11. somer
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    The identity politics and the obsession with the desired world informing the real world and simply ignoring facts as somehow immoral continues. Doesnt matter what the impact is.

    I think I may have seen this referred some time ago on this site but the U tube below is really relevant. Its by Prof Jordan Peterson Fear and the Law

    the case of the Human Resources management of the University of Toronto trying to force 6 session equality and diversity courses on staff designed supposedly to correct their supposed unconscious Racist biases. Its based on a ridiculous State of Ontario Human Rights act,which is proposed to be amended to include providing people with what they think they need to be satisfied, and includes gender identification and expression (i.e. Trans etc) as well as race, gender, differently abledness etc. Its completely orwellian. Its got everything – suppression of speech

    https://www.youtube. [BREAK TO STOP EMBED]

    It runs onto a second video that is if anything even better

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

      By the way, an easier way to stop it imbedding is just to strip off the ” https:// ” when you write it into the comment box – so you write “www.youtube…” etc

      WordPress then automagically reinserts the ” http:// ” in the text of your comment without imbedding the video.



  12. Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:08 am | Permalink


  13. somer
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I agree it absolutely does make the perfect the enemy of the good

  14. Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    I work in a technology space that tries to provide accessibility for the hearing/seeing impaired, namely in communications, and most organizations don’t meet these guidelines, especially in government. The guidelines mentioned are here:


    And it’s not a light read. I imagine Berkley took down the content to evaluate what needs to happen and how much money needs to be spent to change the platform. Only having two weeks to decide on whether to comply probably forced their hand, because they have to have to have their lawyers go over the standards and judgement and lawyers just don’t work that fast.

    I’m hopeful that once they reach a plan to address the situation that the content will go back online while they work on remediation, however the remediations also call for building in oversight departments to respond to complaints and reviewing all future materials for compliance. So it’s not just “fix your software and caption your videos” which is actually relatively simple, if not time consuming, but the final requirement of the remediation is troubling:

    Pay compensatory damages to aggrieved individuals for injuries caused by UC Berkeley’s failure to comply with title II.

    Since the content is free (though likely partly state funded) I don’t know what kind of damages those could be, but that’s a whole new court battle in and of itself, and, I imagine, something simply taking down the content won’t resolve. If anything will delay the remainder of remediations, it will be handling the “aggrieved”, and even a judgment of “no damages” will require its day in court.

    However, colleges are competitive, and with Stanford being a heavy investor in free online content in the form of MOOCs, I don’t see why Berkley would simply take it’s ball and go home. I simply believe they are taking a look at the repercussions, after all, they wouldn’t want a flood of disadvantaged individuals flocking to their MOOC and suddenly claiming damages, whether they really have a disability or not (because who’s going to check every person on a class action suit?)

    As usual, when it comes to law, nobody wins more than the lawyers.

    • somer
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      its abominable firstly to have such onerous requirements that people are penalised for producing anything and secondly to derail an existing free MOOC program

  15. Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I’m very confused by the intention and execution of these laws. As mentioned by #6, is the intention that all education material anywhere must be available in every format possible? Are university lectures (state or private) required to have real-time sign-language translators etc.? Are Khan Academy, Coursera etc. who do this mostly for free, required to abide by this law for every single piece of material they provide? What does one do for people who are both blind and deaf?

    I wholly sympathize with the intention of the law – to provide equal access; but where does one draw the line?

    • somer
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      It becomes so costly and impractical education as a whole suffers. One of the interesting things research psychologist Prof Jordan Peterson argues is that people in HR departments and HR law driving these things are high in Agreeableness. They tend to assume that the overwhelming priority of workplaces is that everyone is agreeable and equal – even if on the surface due to an imposed agreement.

  16. jay
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Looks like a potential legal conflict between limited income people who lose access to the information versus the disability groups whose action caused this issue.

    No good deed goes unpunished.

  17. Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    “Perfect is the enemy of good”

    But sometimes it takes an outside force to overcome the inertia of “it’s good enough”.

    Obviously having the course available to many if not all is better than none. But also available to more is better than many. People once said “we don’t need wheelchair accessible buses because disabled don’t take the bus”.

    • somer
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      Maybe but reading Justin Zimmer, the institution is very likely to be unable to fulfil the conditions – which are far far more than just putting on some captions, or inserts of sign language and making it more accessible to low vision people.

      • Posted October 6, 2016 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

        It’s not like regulatory enforcement doesn’t go overboard. And there is the magic word “reasonable” in there. We can’t accommodate absolutely everyone, and (ideally) the law understands that.

        I’m also an ‘insider’ (although not at Berkeley) and have come face to face with how difficult it can be to get people to actually consider those with disabilities. Very simple things like “if you have text embedded in an image (your standard ‘meme’) that text must be available as actual text for a screen reader” – when you explain it, people are all for it. But then they forget. And you have to explain it over and over. And they still forget. Or ‘forget’.

        Having seen the fight from the other side, I’m a little more sympathetic to the frustration faced by institutional inertia. Sometimes it takes a really big push.

  18. Alpha Neil
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Could they set up an independent nonprofit organization who is not subject to these regulations then “donate” the materials to the nonprofit so that they could be made available? Maybe call it Yelekreb or Schmerkeley. I’m not going to pretend to understand the regulations but that’s the first solution that came to my mind.

  19. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Happens in Canada with French sometimes. Companies have to package their stuff in French and English and some just decide not to provide their products to Canada at all for this reason.

    • Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      And in Quebec, with the even more onerous requirements due to Bill 101, some interesting businesses do “avoid Quebec”. I have TNT Supermarkets in mind – there would be a market for those in at least two places in the greater Montreal area, and yet I suspect that doing all their labeling might be the reason they aren’t around. After all, I think in rest of the country they can just use the same word for “su choy” and that’s understood to be both English and French and the transcription of the Cantonese. But in Quebec I suspect they’d have to do [big]su choy [little]su choy, etc.

  20. Wild Ted
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Not sure it’s a clear cut as some of the above comments might suggest. Accessibility is not a feature request, it’s a measure of quality. On this view, these courses were taken down simply because they weren’t good enough.

    • Draken
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      Well, then I guess it’s good that those substandard courses are now available to nobody. Does it give you a sense of fulfilment?

      • Wild Ted
        Posted October 6, 2016 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        Disabled people have the same rights as, for example, people from racial minorities.

        So, I would suggest removing all terminology relating to disability from your argument and replacing it with race related terminology.

        Then run the argument again and see how you get on.

        • Harrison
          Posted October 6, 2016 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

          I’m a bit surprised you can’t see how unintentionally racist it is to compare being a minority to a disability.

          • Wildted
            Posted October 7, 2016 at 2:15 am | Permalink

            What nonsense. It’s simply a case of rights. Disabled people have the same rights of access as anyone else. To deny this should be as socially unacceptable as it would be to deny access to these courses on the grounds of race.

            By the way, I’m white and my wife is black so playing the race card with me might be a bit tricky.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted October 7, 2016 at 6:02 am | Permalink

              No disabled people do NOT have ‘the same rights of access as anyone else’, not if it requires special measures to accommodate them. I can walk across soft ground. Wheelchairs can’t. Is it your contention that every swamp should be filled in and paved over?

              I can listen to my MP3 player. Deaf people can’t. Are you going to ban music?

              And your virtue signalling with your wife is noted. I doubt it will cut any ice here. If anyone was playing the race card – it was you who mentioned race first.


              • Wild Ted
                Posted October 7, 2016 at 6:18 am | Permalink

                Disabled people do actually have the same legal rights of access to digital content as everyone else, as set out in the UK in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Part 3, added 1999) and subsequently the Quality Act 2010. I understand that there is similar legislation in the US.

                Also incorrect is your belief that disabled access to digital content requires “special measures”. This is absolutely wrong. All it takes is that content producers do not create artificial barriers through lack of knowledge and awareness.

                It is content producers’ lack of know how that is the problem here.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted October 7, 2016 at 7:05 am | Permalink

                Ah, when you’re talking about ‘rights’ you specifically mean ‘rights of access *to digital content*’. That’s a bit different.

                If all that is required is that content produced specifically for the Web should comply with standards, then I don’t have much quibble with that. However, in the case of much existing content, such as the Berkeley courses in question, I think a lot of work might be required – call it ‘special measures’ or just ‘additional work’ – to make it compliant. I still absolutely disagree with taking down already-posted content. You don’t make improvements by demolishing existing work.

                And there must be some practical limits to this ‘right of access’. A deaf person can certainly access Comfortably_Numb.mp3 whenever they like, they just won’t be able to hear it.


    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 7, 2016 at 1:16 am | Permalink

      “Accessibility is not a feature request, it’s a measure of quality.”

      Absolutely not so. Is e.g. ‘Paradise Lost’ inferior to ‘Da Vinci Code’ because the latter has been translated into over 40 languages (plus a movie for the terminally illiterate)?

      “On this view, these courses were taken down simply because they weren’t good enough.”

      That is a bizarre and distorted view of the meaning of ‘quality’. Some of the courses may have been extremely good. The fact that they may be inaccessible to some (how about those without an Internet connection?) is utterly irrelevant to the experience of those who could access them.

      Trying to redefine ‘quality’ to reflect your special interests does no service to your cause.


      • Wild Ted
        Posted October 7, 2016 at 6:10 am | Permalink

        “That is a bizarre and distorted view of the meaning of ‘quality’.”

        Sorry but this is incorrect. I have been involved in accessible content creation for more than 16 years and have taught it for over ten. I also make UK national exam papers accessible by the hundred so I have a great deal of experience in this area.

        If you build things properly, by which I mean to conform to internationally recognized standards, as set down by bodies such as the World Wide Web Consortium, ISO and others, it will be pretty much accessible by default.

        Inaccessible content continues to be created because of sloppy, non-standards compliant production “techniques”.

        Hence, I will stand by my statement all day long that accessibility is a measure of quality.

        Of course it will be expensive to retro fit accessibility, but the same is true of almost anything. But if it’s done properly in the first place it is often no more expensive, difficult or time consuming to get it right than to get it wrong. It’s just a question of knowing how.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 7, 2016 at 6:43 am | Permalink

          “If you build things properly, by which I mean to conform to internationally recognized standards, as set down by bodies such as the World Wide Web Consortium, ISO and others, it will be pretty much accessible by default.”

          That may be the case with content specifically written for the Web. (In fact I’m all for W3C and standards compliance, since I use Linux and Windoze-only apps do not thrill me, for obvious reasons).

          But its’ my impression that these MOOC courses were not necessarily specifically written for web applications, and nor were the documents on which some of the courses were based. And it is, for example, perfectly possible to write a page that has a complex diagram on it and which (the page) passes the W3C Checker yet would require massive effort – or be impossible – for it to be made comprehensible by the sight-impaired. Venn diagrams? Circuit schematics?

          So I think your assertion that the courses ‘simply weren’t good enough’ is stretching the notion of ‘quality’ beyond what it can reasonably bear. One has to ask which qualities the ‘quality’ judgement refers to.


          • Wild Ted
            Posted October 7, 2016 at 7:40 am | Permalink

            There’s a lot more to making things accessible/standards complaint than passing some automated checker. Human judgment is also essential.

            Also, as someone who provides an image description service (I routinely have to describe complex Chemistry diagrams/Maths content etc for clients), the types of diagrams you describe hold no fears.

            It’s all do-able. There just has to be the will.

            • Posted October 7, 2016 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

              The will, plus the time to do practically limitless amount of unpaid work.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted October 7, 2016 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

              So it’s not so simple as you suggested. Doubtless it all takes quite a lot of time and money – which underfunded university staff could put to better use (yes I said better – the most good for the greatest number) – in further developing their courses.


          • Posted October 7, 2016 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

            Mona Lisa is of poor quality, because the blind cannot see it!

  21. Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    I’ve recently joined the “accessibility of IT” group at work. It occurs to me that categorically refusing things because they are not immediately accessible might breed resentment against those who need the accomodations, etc. It is also very unclear what counts. I do a lot of building of installation packages and bundles and … are *they* applications? Technically the former are *documents* – databases, so they rules for exporting documents apply? What? How does one get a Windows Installer package into an “accessible format”? We’ll see how this plays out.

    What I would have done is told Berkeley that they will have another audit in a while (a year?) and that they should demonstrate that they are proceeding with improvements, etc. at that time. Repeat a few times, and *then* start the punitive.

    • somer
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      exactly the requirements currently appear unrealistic and have to balance whole of society costs with greater access to very small but deprived minority.

    • Pikolo
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      Surely that means providing them as source code, so that anybody can compile it for their needs. That’s hot it works in free software

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 7, 2016 at 1:21 am | Permalink

        It would be nice to think it could work that way. However, many of the needy may be lacking the technical ability to compile it and their would-be advocates would doubtless demand that the originators of the source code do all the work for them.


      • Posted October 12, 2016 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        Pikolo, if you happen to be referring to what I mentioned in terms of installation packages, etc.

        Strictly speaking there is a source file (we use WiX to build them) but that in itself raises the same problems. Is an XML file an accessible format? Reading it with a naïve screen-reader would be a disaster, for example. And I certainly can’t have users repackaging, so this is a nonstarter anyway. (Imagine the deployment headaches, if nothing else.)

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 12, 2016 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

          Love the amusing auto correct. 🙂

  22. Posted October 6, 2016 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    I came across this a few years ago. We had generated videos on some specialized surgeries and dissections in mice and rather than continually distributing DVDs wanted to get them hosted on an appropriate website. However we were told that they were not accessible to the visually impaired so we couldn’t do it.

    These procedures require the use of dissecting scopes and, of their very nature, cannot be performed by visually impaired people (sorry but I can’t do anything about that). Apparently burning DVDs and distributing the stuff by mail is still fine. Go figure.

  23. Carl Morano
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    This is horrible and immoral. To meet every standard to the point where nothing will be affordable or available to anyone unless it is accessible to everyone. This is collectivism on steroids and will send us back to the stone age. Disgusting and I’m surprised Jerry is even morally perplexed about this.

  24. Barney
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Seems like the kind of thing a donation from one of the people who made unbelievable billions from the internet might help. But keeping the uncaptioned MOOCs available while the improved versions are produced would be the most useful thing.

    • Merilee
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      +1 to Barney

  25. Posted October 6, 2016 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    ”The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.”

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      Oh my, that is sarcastic and facetious and very good.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 6, 2016 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

        I think he stole it from Kurt Vonnegut. ‘Harrison Bergeron’ was the name of the story.

        See, quoting that was blatantly discriminatory against anyone who isn’t familiar with the science fiction genre. PCC will have to redact Speaker to Animals comment or face a class-action lawsuit from the science-fiction-illiterate.


        • HaggisForBrains
          Posted October 7, 2016 at 9:14 am | Permalink

          Thanks. I vaguely recognised the quote, but couldn’t place it.

    • Posted October 7, 2016 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      I mentioned the same story in a comment before seeing yours.

  26. Christopher Bonds
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    I noticed that #6 remedy was to pay damages to “aggrieved” persons who were unable to access the content. Wouldn’t that have to be determined on a case-to-case basis?

  27. Posted October 6, 2016 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Let’s require that all people in the country take advantage of the UC Berkeley free MOOC regardless of interest or ability in order for us all to be equal. Let’s punish any
    miscreants who won’t take part in, and don’t want, this form of equality. Let’s insist that we all be equally abled/disabled. I have a friend with one leg; shouldn’t we all be one legged? I am near sighted. Shouldn’t we all be near sighted? How about epilepsy and Alzheimers, etc.? Just imagine if every one of us had to have all the same disabilities! What craziness!

  28. Craw
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    “I’m old and likely to die before the 6 month course ends.”
    Should we cancel it?

  29. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Around here (Sweden) deaf or blind people can ask for texted videos/braille or voice books as needed, at least in libraries. The state pays and copies for future use is made.

    Since it takes a few weeks those who need them for courses will have to plan in advance, which of course isn’t always possible in school situations. But at least such a scheme prohibits this type of wholesale closure for ethical reasons.

  30. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    I think it stinks. To put it bluntly, it pisses me off when some useful public amenity is withdrawn because it isn’t accessible to absolutely everybody.

    I think the approach should be “Yes we will try to accommodate [your particular handicap] if it’s readily practical to do so, but we are *not* going to spoil it for everybody else if we can’t accommodate you.”

    Are we going to close art galleries and museums next because blind people can’t see the exhibits? Or close all the hiking trails because they’re not accessible for wheelchairs, pregnant women or the bedridden?

    Bah humbug.


    • Henry Fitzgerald
      Posted October 7, 2016 at 1:44 am | Permalink

      I completely concur. If we accept “dog in the manger” rights then no public amenity or service is safe.

      Suppose the government maintains minimum walking trails around a mountain, allowing people access to beautiful sites on the mountain. But mountains being what they are, one has to be reasonably able-bodied to use them. Do we close the paths down and fence the mountain off for the “benefit” of the obese and wheelchair bound?

  31. madscientist
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Unbelievable – only in America! I guess the Regents should pull the plug on the entire UC system – I don’t recall seeing captions or sign interpreters in *any* lectures at any of the various campuses. This does raise another problem though – the court system imposing ridiculous restrictions on public use of technology. Where does the silliness end? If someone didn’t complain about the lack of captions and sign interpreters I guess someone else would complain that the videos didn’t send control signals to operate braille terminals.

  32. Les
    Posted October 6, 2016 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    I can see both sides of this issue. Perhaps the government should earmark some of the money it gives for public colleges to closed-captioning rather than just suing.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 6, 2016 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

      But that wouldn’t be the American way. The Guvmint wasting ‘our’ tax dollars on politically correct commercially unjustifiable ‘educational’ nonsense? Not a chance. Take someone else to court and them pay!


  33. kelskye
    Posted October 7, 2016 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    We have to deal with this with software development now. Even for highly-specialist systems, a lot of effort has to go into the mere possibility that someone with severe impairment needs to use the system.

    Though I can completely understand it for applications for the general public – despite it being a major headache.

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