United States Reaches Settlement with Provider of Massive Open Online Courses to Make its Content Accessible to the Disabled
BOSTON – Carmen M. Ortiz, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts and Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division, announced today that the Department of Justice has entered into a settlement agreement with edX Inc. to remedy alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The agreement resolves the Department’s allegations that edX’s website, www.edx.org, and its platform for providing massive open online courses (“MOOCs”), were not fully accessible to individuals with disabilities, including individuals who are blind or have low vision, individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, and individuals who have physical disabilities affecting manual dexterity, in violation of Title III of the ADA. Among other things, the settlement requires edX to provide accurate captioning for the deaf, oral navigation signals for the blind, and programing changes so those with dexterity disabilities can navigate content without struggling with a hand-operated mouse.
“Critical portions of education are moving online, in tandem with the rest of our social experience. This new, educational online world readily can, and should be, built from the outset in a way that does not discriminate against those with disabilities,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz. “Access to high quality education is one of the essential pillars of our democracy and to the well-being of our communities. This agreement ensures that those with disabilities will not be left behind.”
“MOOCs have the potential to increase access to high-quality education for people facing income, distance, and other barriers, but only if they are truly open to everyone. This landmark agreement is far-reaching in ensuring that individuals with disabilities will have an equal opportunity to independently and conveniently access quality higher education online” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Gupta. “edX is to be commended for working with the Justice Department to take such steps.”
edX was created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University in 2012 as a nonprofit platform for select universities to offer MOOCs to the world. The consortium’s 36 charter members include University of California at Berkeley, Georgetown, Dartmouth, Caltech, the Sorbonne, and Peking University, in addition to Harvard and MIT. Today, edX has approximately 60 university and institutional members providing over 450 courses to over 3,000,000 learners. The courses are offered largely for free in subject matters as varied as business, computer sciences, hard sciences, food and nutrition, and social sciences.
Today’s agreement requires edX to make significant modifications to its website, platform, and mobile applications to conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA, which are industry guidelines for making web content accessible. Under the agreement, edX will also provide guidance and authoring tools to the entities that create and post courses on www.edx.org, many of which are independently covered by the ADA, to assist them in creating accessible course content. Because edX makes its software code freely available, any modifications to that code under this agreement will enable other MOOC providers to enhance the accessibility of their online offerings.
The four-year agreement requires edX to:
- make the edX website, its mobile applications, and learning management system software, through which online courses are offered, fully accessible within 18 months;
- ensure that its content management system, called Studio, which edX makes available to entities creating online courses, permits posting of accessible content;
- make its content management system fully accessible and equipped to create courses that are accessible to learners with disabilities within an additional 18 months;
- provide guidance to course creators at its member universities and other institutions on best practices for making online courses fully accessible;
- appoint a web accessibility coordinator;
- adopt a web accessibility policy;
- solicit feedback from learners on the accessibility of the courses;
- conduct web accessibility training for employees responsible for the website, platform, and mobile applications; and
- retain a consultant to evaluate conformance of the website, platform, and mobile applications.
Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public accommodations in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of places of public accommodations. Title III of the ADA also requires public accommodations to take necessary steps to ensure individuals with disabilities are not excluded, denied services, segregated, or otherwise treated differently because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services, such as accurate captioning of audible materials and labeling of visual materials. The Justice Department has long considered Title III and its implementing regulation to apply to the online services and communications of public accommodations.
This case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen P. Heymann of Ortiz’s Civil Rights Enforcement Team, and Trial Attorneys Eugenia Esch, William F. Lynch, and Dov Lutzker of the Department of Justice’s Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division.
To find out more about federal disability rights laws, call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD), or access its ADA website at www.ada.gov. ADA complaints, including those involving the inaccessibility of www.edx.org, may be filed by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.