9 accessibility steps for MOOC platforms

U.S. reaches settlement with edX to increase MOOC accessibility for those with disabilities.

mooc-accessibilityUnder an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, edX will make its website fully accessible to users with disabilities within 18 months and will appoint a web accessibility coordinator, in addition to a number of other actions to ensure accessibility.

The agreement with edX addresses complaints that edX’s website is not fully accessible to individuals with disabilities, including individuals who are blind or have low vision, those who are deaf or hard of hearing, and those who have physical disabilities affecting manual dexterity.

Under the settlement, edX will provide accurate captioning for the deaf, oral navigation signals for the blind, and programming changes so those with dexterity disabilities can navigate content without struggling with a hand-operated mouse.

(Next page: 9 requirements contained in the four-year agreement)

“Critical portions of education are moving online, in tandem with the rest of our social experience. This new, educational online world readily can, and should be, built from the outset in a way that does not discriminate against those with disabilities,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz. “Access to high quality education is one of the essential pillars of our democracy and to the well-being of our communities. This agreement ensures that those with disabilities will not be left behind.”

Because edX makes its software code freely available, any modifications to that code under this agreement will enable other MOOC providers to enhance the accessibility of their online offerings.

The four-year agreement requires edX to:

1. Make the edX website, its mobile applications, and learning management system software, through which online courses are offered, fully accessible within 18 months
2. Ensure that its content management system, called Studio, which edX makes available to entities creating online courses, permits posting of accessible content;
3. Make its content management system fully accessible and equipped to create courses that are accessible to learners with disabilities within an additional 18 months
4. Provide guidance to course creators at its member universities and other institutions on best practices for making online courses fully accessible
5. Appoint a web accessibility coordinator
6. Adopt a web accessibility policy
7. Solicit feedback from learners on the accessibility of the courses
8. Conduct web accessibility training for employees responsible for the website, platform, and mobile applications
9. Retain a consultant to evaluate conformance of the website, platform, and mobile applications

“MOOCs 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. This landmark agreement is far-reaching in ensuring that individuals with disabilities will have an equal opportunity to independently and conveniently access quality higher education online” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Gupta. “edX is to be commended for working with the Justice Department to take such steps.”

edX was created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University in 2012 as a nonprofit platform for select universities to offer MOOCs to the world. The consortium’s 36 charter members include University of California at Berkeley, Georgetown, Dartmouth, Caltech, the Sorbonne, and Peking University, in addition to Harvard and MIT.

Today, edX has approximately 60 university and institutional members providing over 450 courses to over 3,000,000 learners. The courses are offered largely for free in subject matters as varied as business, computer sciences, hard sciences, food and nutrition, and social sciences.

Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public accommodations in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of places of public accommodations. Title III of the ADA also requires public accommodations to take necessary steps to ensure individuals with disabilities are not excluded, denied services, segregated, or otherwise treated differently because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services, such as accurate captioning of audible materials and labeling of visual materials.

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Laura Ascione

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