Over the weekend Harvard’s lawyers finally came to a decision over the almost five year issue of captions, they have a consent decree. What does the decree say? In the matter of violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Harvard denies the allegations. However, Harvard agrees to caption any video or audio content created by Harvard or posted on their sites after Dec 1, 2019. And for any audio or video content produced before that date, they are willing to provide captions if they receive a specific request by an individual with a disability.
This was one of several cases brought by the National Association of the Deaf. Previous agreements were reached with Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix all during or prior to 2016. So why is this case important? It has dragged on for almost five years, and been seen as a test case. As Harvard goes, so goes the nation. So while Harvard is able to deny the allegations, the end result is the same, they will caption their new audio and video content. With the recent Dominoes case, businesses and educational institutions will be very concerned about their website accessibility. With this consent decree, schools with smaller budgets will be more concerned about making their video content accessible. Harvard has presumably dodged a very large or expensive bullet, not having to immediately caption any of the large catalog of videos they were sitting on prior to December 1. However, this is a win for accessibility. One of the oldest, and most storied institutions of higher education in the United States is now complying with accessibility laws, whether they deny it or not.