Newsletter 17

12 May, 2016

In this issue

  1. Video Captioning of Public Educational Content
  2. Global Accessibility Awareness Day
  3. Browser Accessibility
  4. Stat of the week

Video Captioning of Public Educational Content

Just as buildings without ramps bar people who use wheelchairs, online content without captions excludes individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing

In February of 2015, the American National Association of the Deaf (NAD) brought actions against Harvard University and MIT, alleging that their failure to provide accurate captions for their online content discriminated against individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504).

The complaint focussed on publicly accessible content such as MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses), public lectures which are distributed via platforms such as YouTube, ITunes U, SoundCloud and OpenCourseWare.

"Just as buildings without ramps bar people who use wheelchairs, online content without captions excludes individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing", the NAD argued. It referenced WCAG 2.0 Success Criteria 1.2.2 which states that a text alternative needs to be provided for all pre-recorded audio in videos.

In response to the complaint, Harvard and MIT argued that the complaint should be stayed or dismissed until the US Department of Justice (DOJ) issues regulations on website accessibility. The DOJ refuted this in a Statement of Interest, arguing that the court was well equipped to apply the ADA and Section 508 to the plaintiffs' claim.

In the alternative, Harvard and MIT argued that Section 504, which states that no individual with a disability shall be excluded from the benefits of any program or activity (including those provided by a university) that receives Federal financial assistance:

  1. does not specifically refer to website accessibility or captioning online video content; and
  2. only applies to students, not the general public.

In rejecting Harvard's motion to dismiss or stay the claim, the US District Court found that the "allegations that much of Harvard's online video content is inaccessible to millions of deaf and hard of hearing individuals, and their identification of captioning as a reasonable accommodation that would afford them the meaningful access millions of non-hearing impaired individuals already enjoy, are sufficient to state a claim under Section 504."

The ruling doesn't mean that Harvard and MIT have to suddenly start captioning all of their online content, it just means that the NAD's discrimination complaint will proceed to trial.

If the court ultimately finds that the deaf and hard of hearing lack meaningful access to Harvard's online video content, Harvard will still be able to argue that providing captioning will be so burdensome that it threatens scholarly use of the internet.

In determining Harvard and MIT's obligations, it is likely that the court will consider:

  1. the nature of the service Harvard and MIT provide, including:
    • whether that service varies depending on whether Harvard and MIT created the content or not,
    • which website is in issue (e.g. websites under central administrative control versus third party websites), or,
    • how the content became publicly available (e.g. posted under central administrative control or by faculty, students, or alumni).
  2. the financial and administrative burdens a captioning requirement would impose on Harvard and MIT, including:
    • how those burdens might vary based on all of the same factors;
    • the availability of different technologies for captioning online audio-visual content;
    • the availability of other auxiliary aids or services; and
    • Harvard and MIT's resources.

Like in the US, Australian universities tend to take more notice of positive obligations, such as those outlined in the Disability Standards for Education, than negative obligations, like those created under the Disability Discrimination Act. The problem with this is that some human rights, such as "access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet", listed under Article 9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, are not mentioned in the Disability Standards for Education and are unlikely to be included in the foreseeable future.

Currently, some Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) providers, such as Coursera, already provide captions for all videos in the primary language of the course. If the US courts ultimately rule against Harvard and MIT, more MOOC providers will follow suit.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Global Accessibility Awareness Day, on Thursday May 19, aims to get people talking, thinking and learning about digital accessibility and users with different disabilities.

A public event including lightning talks about accessibility, inclusion and the needs and preferences of people with disabilities will be held in Docklands at 6:00 pm.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day event registration

Browser Accessibility

For students, the following browsers versions provide access to the Student Portal, LMS, Discovery Search, Google Apps and general web pages:

  • IE: 10
  • Chrome: 46 or 47
  • Safari: 8 or 9
  • Firefox: 42 or 43

For staff, the following browser versions provide access to the LMS, Discovery Search, Themis, Google Apps and general web pages:

  • IE: 10 or 11
  • Chrome: none
  • Safari: 8 or 9
  • Firefox: none

More information about browser support

Stat of the week

Most popular University web sites by daily page views

Page views Web site
120,000 Student Portal
47,000 Learning Management System
37,000 Course Handbook
26,000 University Homepage
21,000 Future Students
16,000 Course Search
13,000 Library
13,000 About Us