EdX Settles Justice Department Complaint Over Online Access

Cross-posted from the Digital Education blog. By guest blogger Audrey Armitage.

EdX, an online learning platform, recently entered into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice over allegations that the organization’s digital content was not accessible to individuals with disabilities, in violation of federal law.

The allegations were initially raised after a review by the department concluded that edX’s MOOCs (massive open online courses), and website were not fully accessible to people who are deaf, blind, or have other disabilities, meaning the online provider’s practices ran afoul of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

While the Department of Justice did not formally file a lawsuit against edX, the organization voluntarily chose to enter into the four-year settlement agreement to improve accessibility following the review, edX General Counsel Tena Herlihy said in an email.

EdX is not the only provider of online resources to have been accused of not adequately serving individuals with disabilities. 

Meanwhile, the National Association for the Deaf, a nonprofit advocating on behalf of deaf people, filed a separate lawsuit against Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for failing to provide closed-captioning in their online instructional videos. The two colleges jointly created edX in 2012 to provide MOOCs and digital instructional materials to participating universities worldwide.

The settlement stipulates that edX must make its online courses, content, and software fully accessible within the next 18 months in order to be in compliance with the law. EdX must offer closed-captioning, auditory signals, and site navigation measures or those with disabilities impacting physical dexterity. In addition, the nonprofit provider must adopt a Web accessibility policy and provide information to institutions using edX on best practices for accessibility, according to a statement from the department.

“Massive open online courses 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,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta in the statement.

According to Herlihy, EdX has already taken steps to allow students with disabilities to access the site, including providing synchronized transcripts for videos, keyboard accessible controls, and support for screen reader users.

“We know that we still have more to do, but we have always been committed to this goal, and we are excited about where we are going,” said Herlihy.

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