Deaf Medical Students Need Closed Captions on Educational Video

Updated: June 3, 2019

A recent disability lawsuit against the American Heart Association (AHA) brought attention to the issue of video accessibility for medical students.

In March 2015, Ian DeAndrea-Lazarus, a deaf medical student at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, filed a federal lawsuit against the AHA, demanding that they add closed captions to videos in their e-learning modules.

As part of his degree program, Ian must be certified in CPR and first aid, and due to scheduling conflicts, the AHA’s online certification classes were the only ones he could take.

He was disappointed to find out that the educational videos were inaccessible–and that the AHA was not going to accommodate him. “I tried to contact the American Heart Association, asked if they could caption if for me because I couldn’t hear what was being said in the video, and said they were limited that they were not able to give me that equal access, said we can’t provide captions for this.”

He claims that the organization’s failure to provide closed captions is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, since it deprives deaf users of equal access to online educational video.

Ian hopes this lawsuit provides some perspective for medical students and medical professionals who are deaf or hard of hearing. He shared:

“All of my peers were able to take the online course without any difficulty. Captioning the videos would give me the same opportunity as everyone else to benefit from important training materials about basic life support and first aid. I hope that the American Heart Association will make all of its online videos accessible not only for me but also for all deaf and hard of hearing individuals pursuing careers in health.”

Howard A. Rosenblum, Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of the Deaf, chimed in with stern words for the AHA:

“Deaf and hard of hearing people can pursue any career, and do not need barriers imposed upon them by misguided professional organizations such as the American Heart Association.”

This is hardly the first instance of deaf medical students fighting for equal access. In 2013, a deaf student at the Cox College of Nursing successfully sued her college for failing to provide adequate accommodations for her program.

The American Heart Association responded:

“We offer Basic Life Support and Advanced Cardiac Life Support courses for health care professionals in various formats to accommodate the different learning needs of students. Some specific online simulation training may not be the best solution for all learners.”


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