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UC Berkeley Removes Online Course Content from Public Access

By: Aylin Dunham
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Last year, UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education Cathy Koshland issued a statement on the accessibility of their online public courses in response to the DOJ’s pressure to comply with the ADA, after receiving complaints from employees of Gallaudet University. It stated that the expense of making their courses accessible might outweigh the university’s resources, and that the University may in the future have to limit its public course offerings.

In response, we wrote a post urging Universities offering massive open online courses (MOOCs) not to be discouraged by this seemingly burdensome task. As awareness of the need for accessibility has risen, so too has the resources available to get it done.

Unfortunately, earlier this month UC Berkeley announced that they have decided, starting March 15th, to block public access to over 20,000 videos and audio content, currently available on YouTube, iTunes U and the University’s website. The primary reason given was that the financial burden of making this much content accessible would be too high.

“In many cases the requirements proposed by the department would require the university to implement extremely expensive measures to continue to make these resources available to the public for free. We believe that in a time of substantial budget deficits and shrinking state financial support, our first obligation is to use our limited resources to support our enrolled students. Therefore, we must strongly consider the unenviable option of whether to remove content from public access.”

-Statement by Koshland, September 2016

The ADA considers the platforms, such as iTunesU and Youtube, where this content is published as “public space” and so they are required to provide accommodation for those with disabilities. 

While reading through the comments from an article published by Inside Higher Ed, we saw a wide variety of responses from those who feel strongly about this news. Although most are disappointed in the outcome, there are various thoughts about who to place the blame on and what could have been done differently.

Who is to blame?

Berkeley: With some sort of accessibility standards in place for decades, many are arguing that UC Berkeley had the chance to make their content accessible from the start. Some also believe that the cost is not an issue, and Berkeley has the resources to make the content accessible. Berkeley has solutions in place to make content accessible to students upon request, which is in compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation ACT, so why aren’t they able to use the same process to make this content accessible?

The Law: Another strong opinion criticized the law, when accessibility law results in pulling massive amounts of educational content, free to the public, something is wrong. Why take content away from the majority? Some go as far as to say that this is a violation of free speech, regulating the format of content is regulating the faculty and students’ freedom of speech.

What should have been done differently?

Others are questioning why things weren’t done differently. Why can’t the captions be crowdsourced on YouTube? Why can’t Berkeley set up a timeline and re-release the content as it is made accessible. Why can’t Berkeley and the DOJ work together on a solution that works for everyone?