DOJ settles with online educational platform

A photograph of a laptop computer
Accessibility of Online Information

The U.S. Department of Justice announced a comprehensive settlement with edX Inc. earlier this month, creating an 18-month timetable for the online education platform to become fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The DOJ previously asserted that the platform failed to reasonably accommodate people who are blind or low vision, deaf or hard of hearing, or had physical disabilities affecting manual dexterity.

“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 Vanita Gupta, acting assistant attorney general of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, in a news release. “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.”

edX is the largest provider of so-called massive open online courses. In 2012, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University created the platform, which now contracts with approximately 60 university and institutional members. It provides over 450 courses, most of which are free, on a variety of subjects.

Under the settlement, the website and its mobile application must, at a minimum, comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, the industry standard for website accessibility. In all new or renewed contracts with content providers, edX must include provisions ensuring the content is accessible.

edX must also implement a Website Accessibility Policy, and appoint a web accessibility coordinator and consultants to oversee its enforcement.

The agreement shall remain in effect for four years.

“The creation and distribution of inaccessible educational content and technology denies students with disabilities an equal education and is therefore a form of discrimination against them,” said Mark A. Riccobon, president of the National Federation of the Blind, in a news release. “Indeed, the propagation of inaccessible education materials is particularly egregious because digital information is inherently accessible and is only made inaccessible by flawed platform design.

“We commend the United States Department of Justice for its commitment to equal access for all students, and we commend edX for agreeing to take the needed steps to provide that access.”