Technology can be a godsend to people with disabilities, allowing them to fully participate in parts to life that would be otherwise impossible. But at what point should it become mandatory?
In a class action suit filed Thursday against Harvard and MIT, the National Association of the Deaf criticizes the two leading higher education institutions for failing to provide acceptable closed-captioning for online lectures, podcasts, and other educational resources.
The group claims that the universities are denying access to the approximately 48 million (close to 1 in 5) Americans who are classified as either deaf or hard of hearing.
In a statement to the New York Times, a spokesperson for MIT said that the university is committed to making its materials accessible to all learners. A spokesman for Harvard, meanwhile, says that it is waiting for official rules to be laid out by the United States Department of Justice, which it will then follow.
The issue of closed-captioning is one that is only becoming more important. Apple and Netflix have come under fire for failing to provide the proper resources for their streaming and downloadable offerings. Last month, the National Association of the Deaf applauded the Federal Communications Commission for extending the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010’s IP Closed Captioning rules to include video clips—meaning that programs shown on television with captions must also be captioned when shown online. (However, this does not currently extend to shorter videos.)
If a ruling is made in the educational realm, it will be significant not only because it will serve as a victory for those looking to make education accessible to everyone—but also because it will acknowledge just how important online resources are to the education system today.