Campus must do more for people with visual impairments

CAMPUS ISSUES: UC Berkeley's response to a Department of Justice letter calling for more accessibility for the visually impaired to online resources was embarrassing.

As the home of the disability rights movement, UC Berkeley ought to enjoy a stellar reputation for its accessibility. And yet, just last week, the Department of Justice found that many of UC Berkeley’s free, public online resources failed to include proper closed captioning and image explanation, making them inaccessible to users with visual impairments. This comes on top of two lawsuits in the past 10 years against the campus for its inability to provide for the disabled community.

Public universities exist, in large part, to spread knowledge and educate the masses. When UC Berkeley’s resources remain unusable by entire communities, it sends a clear message that those communities do not deserve access to the information.

So when the campus suggests that complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act might be too expensive and that it may simply remove its online offerings to ensure compliance, it demonstrates apathy toward the needs of those with disabilities. Removal doesn’t resolve the problem of inaccessibility; it exacerbates it by denying access to everyone.

Amid a historic budget crisis, the campus will need to be creative to solve its inaccessibility problem, possibly through grants or outside partnerships. But those with disabilities should not have to bear the responsibility for budgetary problems resulting from state disinvestment and campus funding mismanagement.

This is particularly true because the insufficient online materials identified by the DOJ are open to the public. These materials serve as many people’s best access line to educational and thought-provoking content, especially those facing physical mobility limitations. Content that can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection is paramount when those with disabilities are already more likely to be kept from campus for myriad reasons.

While the campus’s funding priorities should lie with its enrolled students and the resources available to them, that doesn’t mean it should ignore its obligation to the general public. As the country’s premier public institution, UC Berkeley must remain at the forefront of publicly supplied disability accommodation for educational needs. The content the DOJ highlighted in its letter deserves care and attention, as it would send a message that the campus commits itself to all members of the public, including those with disabilities.

UC Berkeley could have avoided retroactive modification to its videos had it lived up to its image as a bastion of liberalism that supports the underserved — yet disability accommodation must not have been on UC Berkeley’s radar when these videos were uploaded. As English professor Georgina Kleege, who is blind, said in an interview with The Daily Californian, this is an opportunity for the campus to learn so in the future, it can consider accessibility from the outset.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Senior Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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