Accessibility issues lead to settlement between edX and Department of Justice

Caleb Wong

EdX and the United States Department of Justice reached a settlement to make edX’s online courseware more accessible to students with disabilities after the company allegedly violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to a statement from the Department of Justice. 

EdX publishes college-level massive online open courses and was created by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The UT System, an edX charter member, has contributed 12 courses to edX.

EdX did not caption and transcribe certain videos to meet industry standards, according to Coleman Tharpe, the communications coordinator for edX’s Energy 101 course and anthropology and radio-television-film senior. Energy 101 is a course the Cockrell School of Engineering published on edX.

“It hinged on video,” Tharpe said. “They were producing and publishing video that [they] were including in courses essentially without captioning and [transcribing] the videos or separating the transcripts and the captions from the video. [The time lag between the captions and video] was far away, and that’s not a best practice.”

According to Philip Long, associate vice provost for learning sciences, all courses published by UT Austin on edX contain full captions and transcripts.

Juan Garcia, a media production services manager at the engineering school, said edX prioritized the timely publication of content over accessibility concerns.

“If you’re really under the wire and trying to get content to an organization, to an institution [and] to students, it’s much easier to do that as a process,” Garcia said. “In many cases, having these transcripts can take double and triple the amount of time than it actually takes to produce a video.”

Tharpe said he did not receive any complaints about accessibility issues when collecting feedback for the Energy 101 course.

“From what I heard, the student experience was overall very positive,” Tharpe said. “The production was beautiful, but they did take the time to make this course, as it is, the best practice for a university.”

Garcia said UT-Austin can draw upon resources such as the Center for Teaching and Learning and other course support staff to comply with accessibility laws. Other institutions, Garcia said, may struggle to revise their courses to comply with the terms of the settlement.  

“Not everyone has a network or capabilities of putting this into place, and so, now, the institutions are going to be looking to the states and the states are going to be looking back at the institutions,” Garcia said. “The benefits extend well beyond compliance, but the hard part is figuring out who has the time and the money to do this.”

Correction: This story has been amended since its original publication. According to Tharpe, only some EdX videos did not meet industry standards. All courses published by UT contain captions and transcripts, Long said.