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ADA Compliance

DOJ Agreement with UC Berkeley Over Digital Content Accessibility Could Have Huge Impact on IHEs

A new consent decree between the Justice Department and University of California, Berkeley resolving allegations that UC Berkeley’s digital content is not accessible enough may have much broader implications for education institutions with free online content and courses that are not fully ADA compliant — regardless of the platform where the institution’s content exists.

The proposed consent decree was filed in late November alongside a complaint setting forth the allegations of discrimination.

“By entering into this consent decree, UC Berkeley will make its content accessible to the many people with disabilities who want to participate in and access the same online educational opportunities provided to people without disabilities,” said DOJ Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke in a news release. “This decree will provide people with disabilities access to the numerous free online courses, conferences, lectures, performances and other programming offered by UC Berkeley and its faculty, providing lifelong learning opportunities to millions of people.”

The DOJ statement noted that UC Berkeley makes conferences, lectures, sporting events, graduation ceremonies and other university events available to the public on its websites and on other online platforms, including YouTube and Apple Podcasts, and its courses are available on the UC BerkeleyX platform.

“Much of this online content is not accessible to people with disabilities because it lacks captions and transcripts for individuals who are deaf and alternative text describing visual images for individuals who are blind,” DOJ said. “It is also formatted in a way that does not allow individuals with disabilities to access the content using screen readers or other assistive technology.”

The proposed consent decree, which would last for 3.5 years if approved by the court, UC Berkeley “will make all future and the vast majority of its existing online content accessible to people with disabilities,” DOJ said. “This includes BerkeleyX courses, university websites and video and podcast content on its YouTube, Apple Podcasts, and other third-party platforms. UC Berkeley will also revise its policies, train relevant personnel, designate a web accessibility coordinator, conduct accessibility testing of its online content and hire an independent auditor to evaluate the accessibility of its content.”

“Through this consent decree, the Department of Justice demonstrates its commitment to ensuring compliance with the ADA by providing individuals with disabilities a full and equal opportunity to participate in and enjoy the benefits of UC Berkeley’s services, programs and activities in equal measure with people without disabilities,” said U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds for the Northern District of California.

A consultancy in the web accessibility space called the Bureau of Internet Accessibility noted in a blog post that while updates to the federal ADA laws about digital content are pending review, DOJ has been more active under the Biden administration in applying ADA rules to web content, generally applying Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

Additionally, ADA published new guidance for website accessibility standards in March 2022, available at

The DOJ-UC Berkeley decree follows recent news of an individual with a visual disability filing lawsuits against Mercer University, Loyola University of Chicago, and Lafayette College over those institutions’ websites being inaccessible with a screen reader.

About the Author

Kristal Kuykendall is editor, 1105 Media Education Group. She can be reached at [email protected].

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