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Why you can’t discuss online learning without acknowledging this

By Justin Beck
June 22nd, 2016

video-accessibility-online

Why you can’t discuss online learning without discussing video accessibility; but what’s really required?

With nearly 1 in 5 Americans classified as having a disability, according to the 2010 census, and 13 percent of all public school students receiving special education services, accessibility is more important to educational institutions than ever before. While procedures for handling traditional materials have been well established for some time, higher ed educators’ increased reliance on video for lecture capture, supplemental materials, distance and online learning, and more is bringing the issue of video accessibility standards to the forefront.

The key to accessible videos is captioning: 99 percent accurate captions, using a 508-compliant video player optimized for accessibility, make it possible for people with hearing, visual, and motor impairments to use video materials. But adding captions to an entire library of video materials can be daunting. How necessary is it?

Meeting Regulations

In the U.S., two key pieces of legislation guide accessibility standards. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies, as well as schools receiving federal funding, to make electronic information accessible not only to members of the public but to staff as well.

This familiar piece of legislation is in the process of getting a facelift—the Section 508 Refresh was proposed last year. This year, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 will be taking effect. The guidelines specify four design concepts and three levels of fulfillment criteria (A through AAA), in which level A compliance applies to prerecorded media and level AA requires captions for live media as well. The Americans with Disabilities Act also plays a key role, with Titles II (applying to public entities at the local and state level) and III (applying to commercial entities and “public accommodations”) being the most relevant for educational institutions.

The intersection of these regulations and online video content has become significantly more critical in recent years. Two landmark cases have proven the importance of captioning, specifically. The 2012 case National Association of the Deaf, et al. v. Netflix classified the streaming service to be a “place of public accommodation”, resulting in their agreement to caption all videos by 2014. In the education sphere, in 2015 National Association of the Deaf, et al. v. Harvard and National Association of the Deaf, et al. v. MIT lead to the DOJ filing Statements of Interest favoring NAD in their complaint that the two universities’ online course materials violated the ADA.

(Next page: 2 ways to video accessibility compliance)


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