After four years of fighting in court, Harvard University and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) have come to agreement on captioning of videos and online broadcasts — a decision that could have ramifications for all colleges and universities producing and publishing video and audio content.
Beginning this month, according to the consent decree, the university must begin adding captions for all online resources, including school-wide events that are live-streamed, content from department-sponsored student organizations and any new university-created audio or video hosted on media platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo and SoundCloud. The institution must also cover attorney fees for the plaintiffs, which totaled nearly $1.6 million.
The agreement also covers legacy content. Any video or audio created and produced at Harvard and posted between Jan. 1, 2019 and Dec. 1, 2019 on the school website or official school channels needs to be captioned within the next two years. And captioning needs to be added to any additional content even older than that when the institution receives a "specific request by an individual"; those captions need to be completed within five business days of the request.
The federal class action lawsuit was filed against Harvard in November 2015 by NAD on behalf of three deaf and hard of hearing individuals. The basic argument: The schools discriminated against deaf people by failing to add captions (or using inaccurate captions) on the "vast and varied array of online content they make available to the general public, including massive open online courses." NAD was joined by Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund; the Disability Law Center and the law firm of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll. A similar suit filed against MIT at the same time is still ongoing.
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