UC Berkeley Decision Results in Universal Inaccessibility

The University of California at Berkeley recently decided to withdraw 20,000 public videos and lectures rather than caption them. They will be restricted to their campus community, where the need for captions can be more closely monitored and delivered. We understand that this complex decision was driven, in part, by a Department of Justice finding.

Considering that captioning requirements long predate this content (the videos are 3-10 years old), this is disappointing. Other UC campuses have long had captioning efforts in place. That Berkeley created no plan to provide captions in a stepwise way is infuriating. It should not have required a Department of Justice finding for them to consider this. Their response of making the content inaccessible to everyone is appalling. And it has, unfortunately, resulted in an outcry against students with disabilities who simply seek equal access to their peers.

Berkeley, America’s number one public university, a pioneer in social justice, civil rights, and disability rights, has little excuse for these careless decisions.

Captioning is difficult and has become a major pain point in education. However, Berkeley should have anticipated this. Even if one forgives decade-old videos (we would not), what about those posted after the 2010 joint memorandum to college and university presidents from the White House, Department of Justice, and Department of Education? It clearly specifies, “…America’s technological advances are used for the benefit of all students” (emphasis added). What about Berkeley’s knowledge of other recent captioning complaints in higher education, like the 2015 MIT and Harvard suits? UC Berkley themselves settled a lawsuit in 2002 regarding the lack of accessibility for hearing-impaired students. There is little backing to their claim of an “absence of clear regulatory guidance“.

Berkeley should have found a solution. Although their current fiscal crisis is a significant constraint, opportunities were missed. What about foundations or donors? How about alumni seeking philanthropic outlets in disability issues or civil rights? What about foundations with specific topical interests to fund captioning “sets” of videos? What about individual sponsorships for favorite videos? At $1 per minute, a 60-minute lecture can be done at relatively low cost. Creative problem-solving could have energized accessibility in education. That door is now closed.

Berkeley failed to caption (strike one), failed to remedy that failure (strike two), and ultimately chose universal inaccessibility (strike three). Sadly, they missed an opportunity to deepen their disability commitment, as well as their leadership role in higher education.

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