The United States Department of Justice, or DOJ, filed a proposed consent decree in federal court to resolve allegations that UC Berkeley is in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.
The decree, filed Nov. 21, claims that campus’s many online resources violate the ADA through their lack of disability accommodation. According to a DOJ spokesperson, the main content in question includes UC Berkeley’s free online courses, or Massive Online Open Courses, as well as audio and video content on its YouTube and Apple Podcasts channels. Most of this online content is inaccessible to those with hearing, vision and manual disabilities, as they lack captions, transcripts and alternative text to describe visual images for those with visual disabilities, a DOJ press release reads.
“This settlement is critically important in making it clear to every college and university in the United States that they must ensure full and meaningful access of their website content to everyone, including those with disabilities,” said National Association of the Deaf, or NAD, CEO Howard Rosenblum in an email.
The decree is a result of a 2014 complaint submitted by the NAD against campus for a lack of closed captioning and other accessibility barriers for the disabled community in their online content. This launched a two-year investigation by the DOJ that eventually confirmed the claims of the NAD.
The decree will put a three-and-a-half-year plan to add accommodations to campus’s online content after its approval by the court. This would include online courses, campus websites and video and podcast content, according to the DOJ representative. Additionally, the decree includes a requirement for campus to revise its policies, designate a web accessibility coordinator, conduct accessibility testing of its online content and hire an independent auditor to evaluate the accessibility of its content.
“This is a step in the right direction, although it is frustrating that UC Berkeley needs to have an agreement with the Department of Justice to provide reasonable digital accommodations,” said Julia Métraux, president and founder of the campus chapter of the Disabled Journalists Association, in an email. “It’s important to remember that guidelines for what universities are supposed to do is often a bare minimum, and they can always do more.”
Campus has already launched a committee focusing on digital accessibility, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore.
Gilmore also noted the Digital Accessibility Program, an effort to review and bring into compliance digital materials that cannot be accessed by those with disabilities as a campus initiative to correct the issue.
“UC Berkeley is the home of the Disability Rights/Independent Living Movement. We are proud of that distinction and are committed culturally and technically to ensuring that disabled people can equally access Berkeley’s digital environment,” Gilmore said in an email. “That effort remains underway, as we are always looking for ways to improve access for all audiences, adjusting our work as new technologies, tools, and best practices emerge.”