EdX has entered into a settlement with the Department of Justice over allegations that the online course provider was not fully accessible to people with disabilities, in violation of federal law.
The settlement comes during a separate, ongoing lawsuit between MIT and the National Association for the Deaf (NAD) over a lack of closed captioning in online course videos and educational materials. MIT is due to reply to the NAD’s complaint by May 11.
According to a press release from the Department of Justice, the settlement will require edX to make “significant modifications” to its website, mobile applications, and content management system.
In particular, the settlement will require edX to make its website “fully accessible” within 18 months of April 2, the date the settlement was reached. This will entail providing “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,” according to the release.
EdX will not have to make any changes to the content of courses offered through its platform, but will provide guidance to course creators on best practices for making fully accessible online content.
The settlement came after a compliance review undertaken by the Department of Justice found edX to be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Specifically, edX was found to violate Title III of the ADA, which prohibits “public accommodations” — including privately owned places of education — from discriminating against people with disabilities or barring people with disabilities from full and equal enjoyment of the services they provide.
Notably, edX was considered to be a public accommodation despite having a purely online presence. Although the Justice Department said in a press release that it has “long considered Title III … to apply to online services,” edX general counsel Tena Herlihy noted a gap between existing accessibility laws and their application to emerging online technologies.
“The laws regarding website accessibility should be clear and uniformly applied,” Herlihy wrote in a statement. “While the law and policy catch up, we are very proud to be a leader in website accessibility for learners across the globe.”
“We are excited about where we are going,” Herlihy said.
Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX, echoed this sentiment. “Our vision — quality education for everyone, everywhere — can only be achieved when our site is accessible to all users, including people with disabilities.”