The NAD and MIT Reach Landmark Settlement

February 26, 2020 BY JACLYN LEDUC
Updated: April 20, 2021

In regards to the NAD v. MIT case, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) announced on February 18, 2020, that they reached a landmark settlement with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) nearly five years after filing the initial class-action lawsuit.

According to the NAD, the settlement “institutes a series of new guidelines to make the university’s website and online resources accessible for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.”

The results of the settlement between the NAD and MIT emphasize the increasing importance of digital media accessibility in education.


How Captions & Transcripts Impact Student Learning ✨


The Lawsuit

In 2015, the NAD filed a lawsuit against MIT citing violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act in the universities’ failure to provide appropriately accurate and comprehensive captioning for its online course materials.

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The allegations above claim that the university was denying people who are deaf and hard of hearing equal access to MIT’s free online programming, which includes videos and audio files for educational lectures and “topics of general interest.”

MIT has extensive materials available for free online on several platforms, such as YouTube, iTunesU, Harvard@Home, and MIT OpenCourseWare. MIT, along with Harvard University, are the founding partners of edX, a nonprofit that offers dozens of MOOCs, or massive open online courses, free to students around the world.

When MIT filed a motion to dismiss the case during litigation, the court did not dismiss the case. Instead, the court responded by ruling that federal laws prohibiting disability discrimination, such as the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, do cover MIT’s online content.

Industry Study

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The results of this study reveal insights into how students use captions and interactive transcripts to support their learning.

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The Settlement

The terms of the NAD v. MIT settlement are similar to that of the agreement between the NAD and Harvard, which took place in November 2019. Though minute details have not yet been made public, in general, MIT has agreed to provide industry-standard captioning for all of its publicly-available online content on its website and other platforms like Vimeo, YouTube, and MIT OpenCourseWare.

According to the NAD, this settlement represents “the most comprehensive set of online accessibility requirements in higher education and provide[s] a new model for ensuring worldwide online and digital accessibility in academia and business for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.”

Because MIT is a leader in online educational content, other universities may feel more pressure to comply with accessibility laws for their online content. Consequently, this settlement could make a significant impact on how other universities shape and enforce their accessibility policies moving forward.

MIT’s Stance on Accessibility

When the NAD filed the lawsuit in 2015, an MIT spokesperson said that “the university was committed to making its materials accessible to its students and online learners who have hearing disabilities, and included captioning in all-new course videos and its most popular online courses.”

Today, MIT’s online accessibility statement states that “MIT is committed to providing an environment that is accessible to individuals with disabilities.”

MIT’s Accessibility and Usability Team Helps Drive Success

MIT offers an internal consultancy group, known as the Accessibility and Usability group in the Division of Student Life, which is available to the entire MIT community. The group offers many services, free of charge, including:

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  • Assistive technology implementation for individuals with disabilities
  • User interviews and user surveys
  • User testing and user evaluation (both live and remote)
  • Accessibility and usability expert reviews
  • Assistive technology and screen reader code reviews
  • Tools to evaluate the usability and accessibility of products

Some of the primary goals of this internal group are to provide free accessibility reviews and consulting to MIT, build awareness of legal obligations for accessibility under the ADA and other legal mandates, and build cultural awareness and acceptance of the many benefits of accessibility.

The group’s website currently provides best practices and resources for captioning online video content.

Updates for the NAD v. MIT Case

Want to stay in the know? Check back to the 3Play blog for updates on the NAD v. MIT settlement, such as details from the official consent decree once it’s made public by the court.

How Captions & Transcripts Improve Student Learning report.

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