Why is the Justice Department Scrutinizing Educational Technology?

Earlier this month, the US Justice Department settled an agreement with MOOC provider edX.

What caused the investigation into one of the most popular online learning providers? Alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the Justice Department’s statement. The agreement focuses on accessibility, requiring edX to "make significant modifications to its website, platform, and mobile applications to conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 AA, which are industry guidelines for making web content accessible to users with disabilities." edX technology must be adapted to ensure that all individuals, including learners who are blind or have low vision, individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, and individuals who have physical disabilities affecting manual dexterity, can access educational content.

From blended MBA degrees to technology certifications, MOOCs provide innovative learning opportunities to massive numbers of students. If the content can't be accessed by students with disabilities, however, your school’s courses are not complying with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rules, specifically Title III.

The four-year plan with the Justice Department requires edX to:

  • "make the edX website, its mobile applications, and learning management system software, through which online courses are offered, fully accessible within 18 months;
  • ensure that its content management system, called Studio, which edX makes available to entities creating online courses, is fully accessible and supports authoring and publishing of accessible content within an additional 18 months;
  • provide guidance to course creators at its member universities and other institutions on best practices for making online courses fully accessible;
  • appoint a Web Accessibility Coordinator;
  • adopt a Web Accessibility Policy;
  • solicit feedback from learners on the accessibility of the courses;
  • conduct Web Accessibility Training for employees responsible for the website, platform, and mobile applications; and
  • retain a consultant to evaluate conformance of the website, platform, and mobile applications."

(Information via)

I asked Maile Keone, VP of Marketing, Listen Technologies (a provider of assistive listening solutions), to weigh in on the recent decision.

"The settlement agreement between the US Justice Department and edX speaks directly to the largest accessibility barrier: the pervasive lack of awareness of the need for accommodations, especially in an ever changing technological world,” Keone said. "While edX’s lack of accommodations during the creation of the platform was likely simply an oversight, the settlement is a clear directive that these considerations should be always be an integral part of creating new learning platforms or any technology advances.”

Margot Douaihy, Ph.D.

Margot Douaihy, Ph.D., is a lecturer at Franklin Pierce University.