Four Years Later, Harvard Must Provide Closed Captions

December 3, 2019 BY ELISA EDELBERG

What started out as a class-action lawsuit back in 2015, the NAD v. Harvard has become a well-known example in the accessibility community. This lawsuit has set precedent for colleges and universities to be held accountable for providing captioning on their online video content. Additionally, this was the first lawsuit of its kind to address the accuracy and quality of the captions being provided, noting that “Much of Harvard’s online content is either not captioned or is inaccurately or unintelligibly captioned, making it inaccessible for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

The Settlement

Building with columnsFour years later, on November 27, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) won a landmark settlement with Harvard University. The settlement establishes guidelines at the university to make their website and online resources accessible to those who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing. According to Forbes, the resolution “represents the most comprehensive set of online accessibility requirements in higher education and ensures for the first time that Harvard will provide high-quality captioning services for online content.”

The settlement strengthens Harvard’s new digital accessibility policy and is effective as of December 1. 


What the settlement means for Harvard


Harvard must provide captions for all online resources, not limited to online courses. School-wide events that are live-streamed, content from department-sponsored student organizations and any new university created audio or video hosted by third-party platforms must all be captioned.

In addition, the following requirements must be met:

  • Harvard must add closed captioning to existing content posted on or after January 2019 within two years
  • For any content not already captioned, upon receiving a request, Harvard must caption the content within five business days
  • Harvard is required to submit reports every six months beginning in June 2020 to the NAD and the Disability Law Center with information about the number of requests received and any changes made to these policies.

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What the settlement means for the future of accessibility

Hand on a book that says lawCaptioning is a critical part of video accessibility. Understanding which captioning and accessibility requirements apply to your particular organization can be challenging. For this reason, many organizations look to past settlements to better interpret how the laws apply to them. In addition to the changes being implemented on the Harvard campus and across their online presence, the settlement also has implications for the future of video accessibility more widely, including:

  • Greater access for current and future deaf and hard of hearing learners
  • Accessibility will no longer be an afterthought but rather a fundamental piece of the Harvard experience
  • This settlement acts as an example for other universities and colleges to follow suit.

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