Harvard and MIT sued over closed captioning practices

Woman newscaster with captioning on the screen, Seattle background
Harvard and MIT sued over failure to caption video content

Two of the nation’s most prestigious universities are under fire for allegedly failing to consistently make their video and audio content accessible through closed captioning, according to a new federal class-action lawsuit.

“Harvard and MIT systematically discriminate against people who are deaf and hard of hearing and perpetuate the isolation of people with disabilities that the ADA was meant to eliminate,” said Christine M. Griffin, executive director of the Disability Law Center, in a news release. “Our hope is that this lawsuit will change not only Harvard’s and MIT’s practices, but set an example for other universities to follow.”

The lawsuit targets content from a variety of Harvard and MIT platforms. In regard to Harvard, the lawsuit lists examples of videos lacking closed captioning on its Youtube channel, its iTunes U channel and its Open Learning Initiative, which provides free online courses, among other services. Many of these videos have been seen by millions of visitors.

The National Association of the Deaf, which filed the lawsuit February 12, is being represented by attorneys from the Disability Law Center, the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center and Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson P.C.

The NAD has previously reached settlements with Netflix, among other entities, to improve their closed captioning efforts.

“Much of Harvard’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,” the lawsuit states, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. “Just as buildings without ramps bar people who use wheelchairs, online content without captions excludes individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

Closed captioning is a viewer-enabled function that allows people who are deaf or hard of hearing to read text along with a movie or television show, as opposed to open captioning, where the subtitles automatically appear on the screen.

The Disability Law Center and Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of this Galaxy website, are part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and members of the National Disability Rights Network.