Harvard, M.I.T. – Who will be next?

Two of the world’s top universities, Harvard and M.I.T. are both looking down the barrel of federal lawsuits, for failing to provide captions and transcripts of online learning material.  The New York Times reported on February 12, 2015 that:

“Advocates for the deaf on Thursday filed federal lawsuits against Harvard and M.I.T., saying both universities violated antidiscrimination laws by failing to provide closed captioning in their online lectures, courses, podcasts and other educational materials.”

Globally, disability staff and community organisations have hesitated to press the compliance button and instead focussed on human rights, the value of social inclusion and diversity for the entire student cohort.

Now however, in the United States at least, it would appear that the gloves are off in the fight for accessible education for people with a disability.

The Liberated Learning Consortium, which HECG’s GAP is a member of along with IBM, NUANCE and leading universities, has for a number of years been researching the area of speech to text technology.  What we have found as a consortium is that when captions and transcriptions are provided,  international students whose first language is not English are major beneficiaries. An interesting observation at a time when universities are vying for this lucrative market.

In 2014 the University of Massachusetts Boston started delivering a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) titled Molecular Dynamics for Computational Discoveries in Science, using universal design principles with full captioning and transcriptions for all video and audio.  Many in the sector are waiting with interest to see the outcomes and evidence coming from this approach.

When English is not your first language, or listening not your preferred method of learning , transcripts and captions can be a great boost to ensuring both engagement, understanding and success in a course.  For many students the ability to search all of their lectures with a word search to find all related material to a particular subject is invaluable.

As eyes of the world watch the outcome of the Federal lawsuits in the USA, it is interesting to ponder what the response will be of both universities and disability groups in other arenas.  Will universities take onboard the opportunities that accessible curriculum offers or continue to view accessibility as an unenforced regulation?

GAP has developed a help sheet for developing accessible online materials which can be downloaded from here.

Sharon Kerr will be speaking at CSUN in San Diego California  5/3/2015 on  the topic of universal design of curriculum. CSUN is the largest international disabilities and technology conference in the world with over 5000 delegates .  Details of Sharon’s presentation can be found here.


1 Comment

  1. I would have say, reading this to me is a beautiful action, the discussions,
    the measure these students are going to, is a gift to all of us who have
    struggled behind the humility of not being able to get access to accommodations
    that assist in reach our full potential like all others have a right to, those
    who will not accommodate, who create barriers -deny access, because they feel
    its not reasonable enough to accommodate. These students are courageous – theirs
    is of a positive activism. Such great honor speaks of them, even if it has to
    be in the judicial forum. This cannot be easy or rewarding in the process, when
    taking on two of the most highly regarded institutions, very intimidating, I
    would think most indeed. But these types of measures must be taken- and will be
    taken- far too individuals with disabilities are being squeezed between the
    academic-institution bureaucracy and ADA policy jargon that covers institutions
    liability. We all know there must have been a great deal more discussions
    before this made its way into court, much struggle from the students, some
    unaccountability perhaps by the schools, before such measures were sought.

    As in most cases, the student begins with a request, who only seeks to learn, is denied by the
    professor, because he doesn’t want to bother, all the extra work he will need
    to do, like prepare his class better, provide materials in advance. If its like
    my school the professors are researchers, writers, speakers, teaching is their
    second job, he can’t be bothered, they expect you to get in the foster farm
    chicken pen, and peck like the other chickens- fall in line!

    The student then goes back to the department of disability,
    redirects their failure to acquire their accommodation, even thought a person
    had to establish all the evidence that substantiated their action plan.

    For those who do not know, a student must have all documentation
    ( every 3 years at my school- you must it must be updated- reports can cost up to $5000.00) reports from the various authorities, physicians, whose evaluations, and recommended accommodations are then negotiated with the StudentDisability Department, who then haggles over the language, The ADA law 1990says, “Reasonable Accommodation.” Overwhelmed and exhausted at the thought of the challenge, disputing- with the institution your trying to get an education from-frightening- either way you feel like your fail. This is a heart wrenching experience, since all you want to do is succeed at learning in the field of your career.
    The educational bureaucracy –its obstacle course it takes to access course
    materials, supports, information, even with all the collective history,
    physicians documentation, legal reports, additionally the acknowledgment from
    the University’s Disability Department, ultimately, this will be thrown to the
    side, since the teacher is way to busy, he/she doesn’t want or doesn’t see the
    need in all that work, and say to the student –“if its that hard maybe you
    don’t belong here, this is ranked the most difficult school, maybe you should
    go to an easier school.” This came from a professor who writes about
    disability, is an well respected person who is regarded in a high authority on
    disability in the disability field, teaches at the university about Disability
    and is disabled their self too.

    Such stances that these institutions revel in, their academic
    righteous, their standing on such matters, such issues need to be held
    accountable and change must take place. These ideas are not just in held the U.S,
    but this is a global issue. With the growing numbers of disability populations
    raising, students being educated world over, most ardently, the issue of exclusion
    for disabled students in education, is being held by the ignorance of others
    who by the great fortune of being “ability
    privileged” at the present moment in their lives, a virtue of having access
    –while others do not have access, will lead to these types of litigations, hopefully
    forcing our current society to make a moral, ethical stance. It is about
    inclusion- not exclusion.

    Most of society doesn’t really get it, till someone they know
    is/ becomes, or they themselves become differently abled, disabled, segregating
    them from the “ABLED, and are denied access. It is when they see their lives,
    or someone close in their life that is affected, restricted by those who deny
    access. It is always at this moment a deep appreciation is sighed as they join
    the lot of us and the terms of “REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION” darkens their lives
    with the dim prospect of lack of access to recourses to assist in achieving
    their goals. When you think about it, Universities, especially those so highly
    regarded, as Harvard and M.I.T, that won’t accommodate closed caption, a access
    to learn, at the University- its the antithesis of where you should have access
    freely to learn-information should be free to access- a bit of a oxymoron, I
    should think. No matter how you want to think about this, this is inhibiting a
    certain population- not to be included, an inequality- probably doesn’t sound
    like a problem for everyone to be to concerned with – does it?

    But it does become societies problem, and a big one two I understand, the cost of not caring, for these people who will have no where to go if not skilled – educated, just one small bit of
    information comes from a statistical, WHO sites
    Over a billion people live with
    some form of disability
    This corresponds to about 15% of the world’s population. Between
    110-190 million adults have very significant difficulties in functioning
    People with disabilities are more
    likely to be unemployed than non-disabled people.
    Global data show that employment rates are lower for disabled
    men (53%) and disabled women (20%) than for non-disabled men (65%) and
    non-disabled women (30%). In OECD countries, the employment rate of people with
    disabilities (44%) was slightly over half that for people without disabilities
    People with disabilities are
    vulnerable to poverty.
    People with disabilities have worse living conditions–including
    insufficient food, poor housing, lack of access to safe water and
    sanitation–than non-disabled people. Because of extra costs such as medical
    care, assistive devices or personal support, people with disabilities are
    generally poorer than non-disabled people with similar income.
    When disabled people do not have access to schools, jobs, they
    become society’s problem, when they cannot access skills- a education- this
    dramatically deceases their probability to work to provide for themselves.

    This is where the society will then have to consider why the
    student who was trying to seek an education – was denied access and now
    unemployed is at society to considered part of the tax dollars that will be allocated, public support –will ultimately society pays. Social services currently are facing stresses, financial frustrations-how to provide, if these populations can not access skills for themselves –then
    eventually, they will access the funding through your taxes though welfare, unemployment, state penitentiaries, the numbers are already there, sadly its true, and each day the numbers grow.

    I am a student who attends a University, a older LD student, the
    school I attend is of the same ranking as M.I T and Harvard, ranked as one of
    nation’s best. As highly respected that my school is in research, they lack
    commitment -sincerity to truly be invested in the dis-ability student, and have several of its own legal issues of somewhat these other universities are being confronted with presently.

    At my University students are also pursuing their rights to have access to information, being denied of many of the same issues you hear around the globe, a lack of accommodations, The biggest problem I see is that the language used from the United States ADA law of 1990-2005, is written that students with disabilities who need supports, they should granted -provided as
    long as the provision is a “reasonable accommodation,” which leaves a
    lot of room for manipulation, and negligence by the interpreter. If the language were stronger and specific to say, populations that are having the greatest difficulty, and would have the greatest impact- those who will have an education and support themselves, further some of these issues such as closed captioning accommodations would be easy to enforce, and not unreasonable as the institutions make them out to be. Lets think about this a bit more, an accommodation- providing closed captioning, (in this era of technology) outline lectures, courses, podcast, and other educational materials, how difficult is that- is that not reasonable?

    M.I.T and Harvard, not being able to accommodate such a approachable solution- incomprehensible that institutions would maintain, with there standing in the world, the advancements that aren’t really expensive or difficult to implement, heck I understand that some of the publishers will even provide forms for the closed caption, text books can be provided in PDF’s so a audible reader can help with this issue. People who learn differently have the right-an equal opportunity to have access to the same information as students
    who can access it in a traditional application.
    As well, it’s not necessarily just those who are second language
    learners, who are blind or cannot hear that may need these accommodation that
    the students are holding their institution accountable for, there are individuals
    with neurological differences such as Dysgraphia, Dysnomia (Anomic
    aphasia), Auditory Memory Deficit, to name a few that benefit from this
    form of accommodation. This type of learning style is compensatory to see and
    hear by way of closed captioning with the audio discourse, this layering is
    extremely beneficial, to access greater comprehension, retention of
    information. Students with difficulties reading – have difficulties with
    retention new discourse, meaning their process neurologically benefits from
    these types of accesses.

    These services bring a greater audience, a larger population to participate in many of the services, problems, and challenges we face in the world presently, its truly sad to think of the talent that would be lost.
    These populations of Disability bring a deeper meaning to humanity, their strife provides them with greater understanding, when you work with less/different that the social norm, their contribution makes for a warmer interaction,the world a better place, since this will be
    a population that everyone will know everybody, sometime in their life. I wish the courts could order a law for all to have a greater sense of community. What ever happened to our sense of community, the community to know there is room for everyone at the table for
    life, happiness, and the pursuit of all ones dreams, as long as each has the
    courage to reach. What gifts we will never discover if we condemn whose who are limited by -those who are limited by in their own ideas, of what is reasonable or not.

    We can’t afford not try support those who need to be accommodated-
    those who strive to be more than they have been. They will be the servants in
    life who will help others, who will try to make a difference for others, try
    and bring a voice that might make a change- to included them, for the disabled
    –disadvantaged, theirs is to reach out in ways that will include all, take
    their voice to the courts and make others accountable for their lack of
    inclusion, accommodation, for institutions to take notice this will not be the
    status quo.

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