Friday, September 23, 2016

Another MOOC in Trouble with the Department of Justice

U.C. Berkeley has been offering public, free MOOCs taught by their faculty.   But, like the MIT/Harvard MOOCs that were identified as problems a year ago, the Berkeley MOOCs were identified as no accessible and two individuals brought their concern to the US Department of Justice.
The story was reported by Inside Higher Education September 20.  Included in the story is a link to the DoJ letter to UC Berkeley.  The first two paragraphs are important for any folks who want to know the legal justification and reason to pay attention to accessibility issues.

The United States Department of Justice (the Department) investigated the University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley) under title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131-12134, and the regulation implementing the ADA, 28 C.F.R. Part 35. UC Berkeley is a public entity subject to the ADA and its regulation. 42 U.S.C. § 12131(1)(B); 28 C.F.R. § 35.104. The ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities by public entities. The Department is authorized to investigate compliance with the ADA and issue findings. 42 U.S.C. § 12133; 28 C.F.R. § 35.172. The Department investigated the accessibility of UC Berkeley’s free audio and video content available to the public on UC Berkeley’s YouTube channel and iTunes U 2 platform as well as its Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offered on the edX learning management platform (UC BerkeleyX); collectively, we refer to audio and video content and MOOCs as “online content.”
The ADA’s nondiscrimination mandate states that no qualified individual with a disability shqall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by a public entity. 42 U.S.C. § 12132; 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(a). The Department is authorized to file a civil action in federal court if the Attorney General finds a violation of the ADA. 42 U.S.C. § 12133; 28 C.F.R. Part 35, Subpart F. 
UC Berekeley's first response has been to threaten to remove all inaccessible content from their courses, or stop offering the MOOCs.  They have gotten some sympathy in crafting DoJ as the big bad wolf in this situation. Others have no sympathy.  Of course ADA was passed in 1990.

UC Berkeley pointed out that the letter of findings only applies to their free, public MOOCs and not to their credit bearing online courses.  That is true.  The complaint was focused on their public MOOCs.  But, the legal issues, as I have written before, apply to all digital content.  ADA and Section 504 can both be used to cite accessibility problems in the Berkeley online courses and digital that are password protected.

The University of California System, according to the DoJ letter has had an accessiblity policy in place since 2013 which sets "forth technical standards and adopts the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 at level AA success criteria."  

And then DoJ states:
While the University of California’s Information Technology Accessibility Policy adopts the WCAG 2.0 AA technical standard, which provides clear parameters for ensuring online content is accessible to individuals with disabilities, UC Berkeley has not ensured compliance with its policy. 
That makes it clear that its not enough to have a policy, there need be actions to ensure compliance. This letter of finding pprovides helpful guidance for academic institutions everywhere in the US.