March 27, 2020

A Massachusetts federal judge on Friday certified a settlement class of hearing-impaired individuals claiming the Massachusetts Institute of Technology denied them equal access to its website, after the university agreed last month to caption its online content.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine A. Robertson certified a class of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing for the purpose of the settlement that MIT reached in February with the National Association of the Deaf and other parties, in which the university agreed to provide accurate captions to videos on its website, as well as written transcripts for audio content on its website.

The judge certified a class of all people who, at any time since Feb. 11, 2012, have claimed or could have claimed to assert a right under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act or other similar laws that they are deaf or hard of hearing and that MIT failed to make accessible public online content.

“There is a substantial population of individuals in this country who are deaf or hard of hearing, any one of whom may have sought access during the relevant period to audio or audiovideo content that MIT makes available to the general public on one of MIT’s websites or on an official channel hosted by a third party platform such as YouTube,” the judge wrote.

Under the deal, new content on MIT's website must be captioned within 60 days after the agreement goes into effect, and old material will be captioned within seven business days if someone asks for it. The university will also caption live events.

. . .

MIT’s deal comes after Harvard University worked out similar settlement terms late last year.

In her order Friday, Judge Robertson appointed named plaintiffs C. Wayne Dore, Christy Smith and Lee Nettles as class representatives, and appointed attorneys from Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, the Disability Law Center Inc., the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund Inc., and the National Association of the Deaf.

The National Association of the Deaf sued MIT and Harvard along with other groups in February 2015. The suits said the Ivy League schools violated the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act by denying hearing impaired people access to thousands of free videos and audio tracks, including talks by former President Barack Obama, MIT linguistics professor Noam Chomsky, and others.

. . .

The plaintiffs are represented by Joseph M. Sellers and Shaylyn Cochran of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, Arlene B. Mayerson and Carly A. Myers of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund Inc., Thomas Murphy and Tatum Pritchard of the Disability Law Center Inc., Amy Farr Robertson of the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, and Howard Rosenblum of the National Association of the Deaf.

The complete article can be viewed here.