NAD v. Harvard Reaches Settlement with Mutual Intent of Increasing Accessibility

December 3, 2019 BY ELISA LEWIS
Updated: December 18, 2019

What started out as a class-action lawsuit in 2015, the National Association of the Deaf (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 for their online video content.

Notably, this was the first accessibility lawsuit of its kind to address the accuracy and quality of the captions being provided. According to this settlement, online content is not considered accessible if it is not captioned or if it is inaccurately captioned.

The Settlement

Building with columns

On November 27, 2019, after four years of litigation, both the NAD and Harvard University came to a mutual agreement by means of a consent decree. A consent decree is an agreement or settlement that resolves a dispute between two parties without admission of guilt or liability.

They “have determined that there is no further need to litigate this action. With the mutual intent of increasing access to Harvard’s online audio and video content for deaf and hard of hearing people, the Parties have jointly agreed to the final disposition of this action in its entirety by Consent Decree.”

This settlement establishes accessibility guidelines so that Harvard University can continue to improve accessibility for their online resources for 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.” Though Harvard does and has been captioning much of its online content, this agreement “ensures for the first time that the university 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


In Harvard’s online accessibility statement, the university states its commitment to providing accessible online materials for all students.

“Harvard University is committed to making its websites accessible. In accordance with this commitment, and with the knowledge that accessible digital content generally enhances usability for everyone, this Policy is established to improve the user experience for those with disabilities.”

According to Harvard’s online accessibility statement, it continues to acknowledge accessibility as “integral to the academic and administrative work of the University.”

The university’s written commitment to online accessibility and the consent decree between the NAD and Harvard will work in unison to help create a more accessible academic environment for all Harvard students.

Going forward, Harvard has agreed to 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.

 Sign Up for the Video A11y Certification Course  ➡️

What the settlement means for the future of accessibility

Hand on a book that says law

Captioning 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.

Learn more about making sure your organization or University is in compliance with the 3Play Media Video Accessibility Certification Course!

Become a video a11y expert with the free online certification. Learn more.

3play media logo in blue

Subscribe to the Blog Digest

Sign up to receive our blog digest and other information on this topic. You can unsubscribe anytime.

By subscribing you agree to our privacy policy.