MIT to Caption Content After Reaching ADA Settlement

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has agreed to provide closed captioning for its online educational content after reaching a settlement in a case brought by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). The case was initially filed in 2015 when NAD, representing four of its members, sued both Harvard and MIT for lack of closed captioning on their publicly available video and audio content. The case was heard before Judge Katherine A. Robertson in Massachusetts District Court.

In their initial complaint NAD claimed “[m]uch of MIT’s online content is either not captioned, or is inaccurately or unintelligibly captioned, making it inaccessible for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.” Further stating that despite requests by the NAD to ensure that captioning was available on online content, MIT had only remediated “a fraction of such content, and even then inadequately.”

The plaintiffs alleged that by not including closed captioning on their online material MIT was in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which states “no otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States… shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

MIT was additionally accused of violating Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations.”

MIT filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings in 2018 which was partially granted and partially denied. The judge agreed with MIT’s assertion “that the Communications Decency Act shields MIT from liability as to content posted by third parties and third-party content embedded in MIT’s online audiovisual content.”  However, the court disagreed with MIT’s argument that their websites were not places of public accommodation under Title III.

In their settlement, MIT agreed to close caption all new content going forward as well as content posted since January 1, 2019. MIT will also provide captioning upon request for any videos posted before January 1, 2019, allowing for 7 business days to complete the request. Lastly, MIT will provide live captioning for events that are live-streamed online by MIT Institute Events.

Other universities have been the target of similar complaints; the NAD case brought against Harvard ended back in December of 2019 with comparable results. The University of California Berkeley received an order from the Department of Justice in 2017 to make their content accessible. However, unlike MIT and Harvard, UC Berkeley was given an option to caption their videos or make them accessible only to students. The university decided to restrict access to all publicly available educational content on their websites due to budget constraints and the high cost of closed captioning.