Online education can offer learning opportunities otherwise not available to students of all ages, locations, and incomes. The University of California Berkeley has offered a wide array of courses in video and audio formats to the public for free, but no credit. That may change. The Department of Justice is threatening a lawsuit: “Based on our findings of accessibility barriers, we conclude that UC Berkeley is in violation of title II because significant portions of its online content are not provided in an accessible manner when necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with hearing, vision or manual disabilities.”
UC Berkeley has responded:
Alex Tabarrok in his blog post “Egalitarianism versus Online Education” writes (here):
In short, the DOJ is saying that unless all have access, none can and UC Berkeley is replying that none will. I sympathize with UC Berkeley’s position. The cost of making materials accessible can be high and the cost is extremely high per disabled student. It would likely be much cheaper to help each disabled student on an individual basis than requiring all the material to be rewritten, re-formatted and reprogrammed (ala one famous example).
An even greater absurdity is that online materials are typically much easier to access than classroom materials even when they do not fully meet accessibility rules. How many teachers, for example, come with captions? (And in multiple languages?) How about volume control? How easy is it for the blind to get to campus? In theory, in-class materials are also subject to the ADA but in practice everyone knows that that is basically unworkable. I guarantee, for example, that professors throughout the UC-system routinely show videos or use powerpoints that do not meet accessibility guidelines. Thus, by raising the costs of online education, the most accessible educational format, the ADA may have the unintended consequence of slowing access. Put simply, raising the costs of online education makes it more difficult for anyone to access educational materials including the disabled.
I tend to agree with Tabarrok, but look forward to further thought and discussion.
Here is a video sample of one of UC Berkeley's online courses: