November 27, 2019

Harvard University plans to implement a new audio and video captioning policy and pay $1.5 million in attorney fees and costs to the National Association of the Deaf to settle a class action discrimination suit, the parties told a Massachusetts federal judge Wednesday.

Harvard’s new policy, which will go into effect Dec. 1, requires the university to abide by standardized accessibility guidelines when captioning all new audio and video content uploaded to a university website or third-party platform. Harvard will also be required to properly caption content that was uploaded before the policy effective date within five days of receiving a request to do so, according to a memorandum explaining the settlement filed by the National Association of the Deaf.

For the next 3½ years, Harvard must submit to the association periodic reports on the steps taken to comply with the settlement, captioning training provided to the Harvard community, any changes or additions made to the policy, the number of captioning requests received and information on requests that were not fulfilled, according to the filing.

“Plaintiffs brought this action to ensure that deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals have equal access, through accurate captioning, to online audio and video content made publicly available by Harvard,” the National Association of the Deaf said. “The relief afforded by the proposed consent decree achieves that goal.”

Harvard and the association have submitted their settlement to Magistrate Judge Katherine A. Robertson for review and are waiting on preliminary approval.

The new policy will also require Harvard to provide industry-standard live captioning for live-streamed, university-wide events, according to the settlement agreement. If the live-streamed event is later uploaded to a website, appropriate captions will also be required on that video.

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The National Association of the Deaf is represented by Joseph M. Sellers and Shaylyn Cochran of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, Thomas P. Murphy, Tatum A. Pritchard and Caitlin Parton of the Disability Law Center Inc., Amy Farr Robertson of the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, Arlene Mayerson and Namita Gupta of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund Inc., and Howard Rosenblum of the National Association of the Deaf.

The complete article can be accessed here.