Egalitarianism versus Online Education

by on September 20, 2016 at 7:36 am in Economics, Education, Philosophy | Permalink

The Department of Justice has sent a letter to UC Berkeley threatening a lawsuit unless the university modifies all of its free online educational materials to meet conditions of accessibility. In response the Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education writes:

…we have attempted to maximize the accessibility of free, online content that we have made available to the public. Nevertheless, the Department of Justice has recently asserted that the University is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because, in its view, not all of the free course and lecture content UC Berkeley makes available on certain online platforms is fully accessible to individuals with hearing, visual or manual disabilities.

…We look forward to continued dialog with the Department of Justice regarding the requirements of the ADA and options for compliance. Yet we do so with the realization that, due to our current financial constraints, we might not be able to continue to provide free public content under the conditions laid out by the Department of Justice to the extent we have in the past.

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.

In short, the DOJ is saying that unless all have access, none can and UC Berkeley is replying that none will. I sympathize with UC Berkeley’s position. The cost of making materials accessible can be high and the cost is extremely high per disabled student. It would likely be much cheaper to help each disabled student on an individual basis than requiring all the material to be rewritten, re-formatted and reprogrammed (ala one famous example).

An even greater absurdity is that online materials are typically much easier to access than classroom materials even when they do not fully meet accessibility rules. How many teachers, for example, come with captions? (And in multiple languages?) How about volume control? How easy is it for the blind to get to campus? In theory, in-class materials are also subject to the ADA but in practice everyone knows that that is basically unworkable. I guarantee, for example, that professors throughout the UC-system routinely show videos or use powerpoints that do not meet accessibility guidelines. Thus, by raising the costs of online education, the most accessible educational format, the ADA may have the unintended consequence of slowing access. Put simply, raising the costs of online education makes it more difficult for anyone to access educational materials including the disabled.

Addendum: By the way, if you are wondering, all of MRU’s videos for our Principles of Microeconomics and Principles of Macroeconomics courses are captioned in English and most are also professionally captioned in Spanish, Arabic and Chinese.

1 londenio September 20, 2016 at 7:42 am

Does this law applies to anyone providing content online in the US? Or only to educational institutions? Or only state universities?

2 prior_test2 September 20, 2016 at 8:16 am

Of course not. For example, none of the following listed initiatives need to have any worries at all – ‘MRUniversity, the project he directs for the Mercatus Center, is one of several online education initiatives aimed at spreading the ideas that lead to free and prosperous societies. The Cato Institute, Federalist Society, Leadership Institute, and Foundation for Economic Education have all taken similar advantage of the online space’s potential to break geographic and cost barriers to reaching their audiences. Learn Liberty, a project of the Institute for Humane Studies, was created upon the organization’s celebration of its fiftieth anniversary and careful consideration of the future. Since its launch in 2011, the project has garnered over 100,000 YouTube subscribers and almost 22 million views of its videos on topics such as history, economics, and philosophy. While demand for these resources continues to grow, content producers like Roman Hardgrave must work tirelessly to integrate innovations in technology to build and improve upon their capabilities.’ http://americasfuture.org/movement-trends-online-education/

If any of them were actual educational institutions, they might have to be concerned, but luckily, none of them are accredited educational institutions.

3 John Thacker September 20, 2016 at 8:36 am

Theoretically, it can apply to anyone, so long as an ADA complaint is filed. It helps if the DOJ decides to get involved, but there are private courses of action as well. In the case of UC Berkeley, it was two activists at Gaudallet University (the famous university for the deaf near DC) that complained. There are plenty of private businesses that get complaints like this; there’s a number of lawyers and regular plaintiffs who regularly file or threaten to file ADA lawsuits, oftentimes promising to go away for money. (One of the Prenda Law copyright troll principals got into this after the copyright trolling went away.)

Per usual, prior_test2 is being a troll.

4 londenio September 20, 2016 at 12:09 pm

thanks.

5 required September 20, 2016 at 9:34 pm

Specifically, Private Universities only need to accommodate for exams and practical components unless they receive government funding (state and federal). Many Private Universities receive Pell Grant, so they have more restrictions than Private Schools without.

6 Axa September 20, 2016 at 9:26 am

The ADA applies to employer/employee relationships and to public entities relationships with the “public”: http://definitions.uslegal.com/p/public-entity/

7 y81 September 20, 2016 at 8:00 am

Well, Prof. Althouse said, regarding affirmative action, “Open it up or shut it down,” i.e., it’s better to have no law school than a law school without affirmative action. It’s not irrational for the Obama administration to apply the same principle here.

8 Darren September 20, 2016 at 9:47 am

Althouse/Obama/Progressive ideology is not Constitutional law.

The “Americans with Disabilities Act” (ADA) ideology itself is of course the problem here.

The ADA was an unconstitutional expansion of federal power, leading to vast government intrusions and absurd government interpretations of a fundamentally “illegal law”.

ADA granted wide and ill-defined power to federal bureaucrats and judges, who subsequently expanded that law to apply to people and circumstances that Congress never even remotely intended to cover. It initially was sold to the American public as a way to directly help wheelchair-bound people, the blind, the deaf, etc.
But the law now covers 1 in 5 Americans and employs fantasy level definitions of “disability” & required remedies. ADA compliance costs are staggering.

9 Picador September 20, 2016 at 10:58 pm

As a tax-and-spend big-government socialist radical egalitarian commie, even I have to say: fuck the ADA. What a batshit policy for a world with finite resources.

10 Slocum September 20, 2016 at 8:03 am

Sweet Jesus, what’s next? Will the DOJ next demand that every instructional video on YouTube be made ‘fully accessible’ or taken down? How about the Khan Academy?

(And am I too cynical to think this might be motivated, at least in part, by a desire to protecting bricks-and-mortar educational institutions against competition from free, online courses? After all, both K12 teachers and university faculty — whose jobs might eventually be threatened by the success of online education — are the among the most loyal of the Democratic Party base)

11 mavery September 20, 2016 at 9:41 am

Sounds like it was motivated by some deaf people that wanted to learn something from a free UCB video but found it uncaptioned.

12 Slocum September 20, 2016 at 9:50 am

That was probably the motivation of the original complainants, yes, but what of the bureaucrats at the DOJ? This smells to me like an instance of ‘sue and settle’ or at least ‘baptists and bootleggers’.

13 Hazel Meade September 20, 2016 at 11:34 am

The DOJ is probably saying “this is what the law says and we have to enforce it”.
It’s not really their fault if the ADA was written overly broadly or if the courts have interpreted it that way.

14 Slocum September 20, 2016 at 12:14 pm

At this point, I don’t believe the DOJ takes any action at this level — one that could have wide-ranging potential impacts — without political calculation (rather like the Dept of Education’s ‘Dear Colleague’ letter regarding handling of campus sexual assault cases).

15 Govco September 20, 2016 at 12:52 pm

There is not a single prosecutor in America who thinks: “a law is broken, I must act.” There’s a lot of weighing and trade-offs.

16 static September 20, 2016 at 11:29 pm

No, they don’t say that they have to enforce it. They have to be budgeted to enforce it- it’s a political maneuver.

17 grendelkhan September 20, 2016 at 8:04 pm

How about the Khan Academy?

Khan Academy provides subtitles for its videos, frequently in many, many languages; they use crowd-sourced volunteers, for the most part. (Though I think they’ve changed how they do that again–I think you send them an application rather than just signing into a site and anting away.)

18 David September 21, 2016 at 11:37 am

@Slocum “(And am I too cynical to think this might be motivated, at least in part, by a desire to protecting bricks-and-mortar educational institutions against competition from free, online courses? After all, both K12 teachers and university faculty — whose jobs might eventually be threatened by the success of online education — are the among the most loyal of the Democratic Party base)”

Nope. Not too cynical at all: in fact, I was going to make the same observation, about The Blob moving to protect its own, but you beat me to it! 🙂

19 The Other Jim September 20, 2016 at 8:18 am

There is something wrong with you if you read about this and your only reaction is to feel some “sympathy” for the university.

This is flat-out insane, and it calls for someone highly-placed in Government to say so. And to shut this lawsuit down, immediately.

I bet if there were someone running for President who would recognize this for the idiocy that it is, and who didn’t mind being yelled at by lawyers having their access to taxpayer money cut off… that person would find supporters due to disasters like this. Incredibly, some of them might not even be racists.

20 John Thacker September 20, 2016 at 10:32 am

Perhaps, but there’s certainly no one like that running on a major party ticket. Trump, for example, is certainly a fan of crazy lawsuits like this.

21 Hazel Meade September 20, 2016 at 11:37 am

Thank you. I hear Trump supporters constantly claiming that he holds all sorts of positions that there’s no actual evidence he holds. They just imagine that he holds them out of mood affiliation.

22 JWatts September 20, 2016 at 4:15 pm

Those Trump supporters are just deplorable human beings.

23 albatross September 20, 2016 at 8:53 pm

Tribalism makes you deplorably gullable, and politicians benefit from this fact.

24 msgkings September 20, 2016 at 9:31 pm

A whole lot of them are. But most aren’t.

25 Heedless September 21, 2016 at 8:53 am

Some of them, I assume, are good people.

26 sdb September 20, 2016 at 11:42 am

I agree that this is crazy – if you want to provide a free service to the public, you have make it accessible to every conceivable user regardless of that user’s limitations or the cost of making the product accessible. But I’m not sure how that is different from mandating that a church open to the public have handicap parking places.

27 Bruce Cleaver September 20, 2016 at 1:02 pm

If ever there was an example of the adage ‘The perfect is the enemy of the good’ this is it. Sad.

28 rayward September 20, 2016 at 8:18 am

I am a frequent consumer of free on-line courses (which I have accessed via i-tunes university). What may not be apparent to anyone who doesn’t consume them, free on-line course are typically very simple productions (i.e., a camera and microphone recording a lecture in a regular classroom filled with students). These are not the type of sophisticated productions like those produced by MRU. That I can watch an entire semester of lectures by Professor Shiller in his finance class or Professor Martin in his New Testament class, for free, is absolutely amazing to me. The production is not very sophisticated because it’s just a typical class lecture. Would the lectures be available for free if the university were required to use more sophisticated production techniques? Probably not; indeed, Shiller, Martin, et al. would likely stop allowing the videotaping of their lectures if it were to interrupt their lectures. If Yale, UC Berkley, or whatever were charging for the on-line courses, I might have a different view. But these are free.

29 Paul Johnson September 20, 2016 at 2:07 pm

Yep, so the end result of the DOJ – only students at Yale, Berkley, and the like would have access to these lectures.

By the way, is the Federal Register ADA compliant?

30 Heyoka September 20, 2016 at 2:52 pm

Not only that. My blind friend wants to read this DOJ letter- where do I get the audio version.

31 Urso September 20, 2016 at 4:25 pm

Hilarious.

32 grendelkhan September 20, 2016 at 8:07 pm

Yes, it is, so far as I can tell.

33 derek September 20, 2016 at 8:39 am

It is working as designed.

The unfortunate thing about this situation is that something got done then shut down as opposed to the normal course of events when things simply don’t happen because of all the inane costs imposed by regulatory agencies.

34 John Thacker September 20, 2016 at 8:39 am

There are, naturally, those who will call for UC Berkeley in this case to become compliant. However, I would hope that they would at least understand that by increasing the marginal costs, they will reduce the total amount of (free and other) services supplied. Perhaps the activists believe that that is an acceptable tradeoff if they increase the total amount of accessible content, even if the amount of non-accessible content declines by more.

35 derek September 20, 2016 at 8:43 am

It isn’t ‘activists’. It is lawyers and bureaucrats. How are rent seekers supposed to benefit from ‘free’? This cannot happen, and it won’t. If the University doesn’t comply (I hate that word) they will be sued.

36 Axa September 20, 2016 at 9:22 am

@derek: I’m afraid it’s “activists”. If you care to read Alex’s link:

“The Department opened its investigation of UC Berkeley based on a complaint alleging that UC Berkeley’s free, publically available online content is inaccessible to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. As part of its investigation, the Department spoke with representatives for the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), the complainant in this matter, as well as Stacy Nowak and Glenn Lockhart, individuals who are deaf and would like to use UC Berkeley’s online content if it were accessible, but who cannot fully use it because it is largely inaccessible……..tacy Nowak, a member of NAD, is a professor and PhD student at Gallaudet University and she is deaf. Ms. Nowak would like to avail herself of what she believes is the increasingly frequent use of video and audio-based scholarship. Ms. Nowak teaches communication courses at Galludet, including Introduction to Communication and Nonverbal Communication. She would like to use numerous online resources related to communication in her classes, including the UC BerkeleyX course, “Journalism for Social Change,” but cannot because they are inaccessible. If UC Berkeley’s online content were accessible, she would take courses and utilize the online content in her lectures. ”

https://news.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/2016-08-30-UC-Berkeley-LOF.pdf

Two interpretations are possible: a) the aggrieved individuals are honest and Gallaudet University (private) tries to freeride on the educational content produced by UC Berkeley (public), b) let me look for my tinfoil hat…….the deaf aggrieved individuals are being used by private universities to eliminate competition.

37 Bob from Ohio September 20, 2016 at 1:47 pm

Gallaudet University, has largely been taken over by extremists, the types who oppose implants aimed at making the deaf hear.

It is also an arm of the federal government.

“The university acknowledges that it “is a congressionally created corporation that serves governmental objectives.”
***
The diplomas of all Gallaudet graduates are signed by the current U.S. President, which dates from President U.S. Grant signing students’ diplomas in 1872.[44]
***
“Gallaudet receives the bulk of its income in the form of an annual appropriation from Congress, and the Department of Education oversees the University’s appropriation for the Federal government.” wikipedia

De facto federal employees complain to a group of de jure federal employees who then strong arm a state institution. Yeah federalism!

38 albatross September 20, 2016 at 9:00 pm

The desire for accessible content is reasonable, and I would like to see those resources have closed captioning. Ideally, the result would be providing some funds for captioning the free content over time. The worst case is that we end up making it too expensive to make these wonderful resources available for free, and the whole world gets poorer.

39 static September 20, 2016 at 11:33 pm

albatross- if you read the letter, they added closed captioning, but DoJ said it wasn’t enough.
In some cases, a professor referred to a picture instead of describing the picture.
Requiring a professor to describe a graphic before referencing it- in archived videos for classes long ended, seems to be beyond a futile request, into the realm of the moronic.

40 Hazel Meade September 20, 2016 at 11:43 am

It’s not even the lawyers and bureaucrats. The bureaucrats are just enforcing the law, as they are tasked, and the lawyers are just acting in their self interest and trying to make money.

It’s the legislative process. It’s the fact that one cannot enact change efficiently through the democratic process. This is why legislatures’ power should be strictly limited. The ADA should not have been considered constitutional in the first place. Power should be devolved to states and localities and ultimately individuals and the free market, because they are ultimately more efficient processes, even at providing “accessible” content.

41 Jay September 20, 2016 at 8:41 am

Will this cause the left wing lunatics at Berkeley to ever sympathize with a for-profit business that faces a frivolous lawsuit of similar circumstances?

42 dearieme September 20, 2016 at 10:23 am

The Fourth Law of Thermodynamics says “no”.

43 Lord September 20, 2016 at 9:09 am

Google needs an automatic video captioning scheme. Shouldn’t be that difficult.

44 Jonathan September 20, 2016 at 9:40 am

Fine. Write it and license it to everyone. I’ll split the revenues 50 percent with you, which is only fair because I took as much time making this business plan as you did saying it isn’t difficult.

45 Slocum September 20, 2016 at 9:40 am

They already have it:

https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/6373554?hl=en

But as is the case with speech recognition in general, it is not perfect and so I assume it would not be acceptable to the DOJ. And, of course, that only solves the problem for the deaf, not all disabilities. For the blind, this is the requirement:

However, if a video includes content that is only presented visually (e.g., on-screen text or key actions that are not obvious from the audio) this visual information must be described in order to be accessible to people who are unable to see it.

http://www.washington.edu/accessibility/videos/

If my cynical take is correct, no partial measures will be allowed because the goal is not actually to increase accessibility but to impose high costs and hamstring competitors for traditional non-profit and state schools (just as the Dept of Ed has been going after for-profit schools and jsut as allies of taxi cartels have gone after Uber).

46 Steve September 20, 2016 at 2:14 pm

Here’s another automated closed captioning solution:

http://www.3playmedia.com/how-it-works/how-to-guides/captions-subtitles-adobe-presenter/

Looks like Google is working on automated descriptions of images:

https://research.googleblog.com/2014/11/a-picture-is-worth-thousand-coherent.html

47 chuck martel September 20, 2016 at 9:14 am

Accessibility to on-line courses isn’t the only travesty of the whole ADA disease, which is an indictment of representative government in total. Handicapped parking, for instance, implies that handicapped drivers, a group that doesn’t undergo enough scrutiny, don’t need exercise. Of course, when an individual has a stroke or some other issue that causes physical limitations they are given therapy to improve their movement as much as possible. Then, when they go home, they’re not expected to move at all. The whole concept is ridiculous and an unfair burden on both the public and private sector. It would have been just as easy for the ADA to require that wheel chairs be capable of climbing up and down stairs but the ADA Nazis want everyone to recognize the “needs” of the handicapped so all public access must be navigable by primitive wheel chairs. The ADA is one of the most wasteful travesties in US history. Two hundred years from now people will be amazed that such a thing could exist.

48 Hazel Meade September 20, 2016 at 11:49 am

To be fair ramps and dips in the sidewalks at curbs are really helpful to bicyclists and people with baby strollers too.

But I agree about the ADA. The problem is our religion about “Democracy”. People entrust way too much collective decision making to the democratic process, as if holding elections every couple years is a panacea that makes all political decisions fair and just. All sorts of things get enacted into law that make no sense or get interpreted by the courts in a twisted way and then are impossible to reverse.

49 Sam Haysom September 20, 2016 at 12:27 pm

It’s always fun to try and figure out who exactly has ever made the arguments Hazel is arguing with. Then you realize Hazel is just an old fossil yelling at a cloud because the cloud looks like its giving him the middle finger.

The AMA is exactly the kind of legislation that a technocratic government would love shoving down people’s throats to demonstrate its virtue. Look at the virtue signaling you do every day on issues like gay rights and you aren’t even a philosopher king just some old fogey.

50 Hazel Meade September 20, 2016 at 1:58 pm

I’m a woman. You might have inferred that from the comment about baby strollers and the name.

51 Brett Powers September 20, 2016 at 9:41 am

Harrison Bergeron. Vonnegut would be laughing his ass off if he were still around.

52 Bobbocio September 20, 2016 at 11:11 am

Funny I hadn’t made that connection till you pointed it out. Good job.

53 JWatts September 20, 2016 at 4:04 pm

“Harrison Bergeron”

Yes indeed. Everybody must be equal and if the the disabled can’t be made enabled then….

54 Michael Ward September 20, 2016 at 9:49 am

My colleagues have done the same thing for their courses. They have agreed to video capture of their lectures. But if a student with a disability requests closed captioning, they simply stop the video capture to all.

55 Mogden September 20, 2016 at 10:32 am

The next step is for such a response to be viewed as retaliation. Severe consequences to follow.

56 Daniel Weber September 20, 2016 at 1:41 pm

People might just stop putting up all videos in the first place.

Wait, I know the response to that: compel anyone teaching a course to provide the video.

57 JWatts September 20, 2016 at 4:06 pm

‘Everything that is not forbidden is compulsory.’ -T. H. White

58 Millian September 20, 2016 at 9:55 am

If UC Berkeley is being state-subsidised it ought to pay the piper.

59 Erik H September 20, 2016 at 10:04 am

The DOJ will almost certainly try to stop the removal. I expect they will rest on a theory of retaliation.

This reasoning is already very common in the DOJ world. For example, a landlord who gets an ADA complaint may not solve the problem by evicting the tenant and taking the property off the rental market. Similarly, a business which gets an ADA complaint for less-than-perfect access to a service counter cannot usually get out of it by closing the affected service counter.

Those retaliation rules are stupid, of course, because while they may provide some short term benefit to the disabled, they simply force business to respond by cutting future investments. That is hard to track and impossible to regulate, so it prevents us from knowing the true cost of ADA regulations. It would be preferable if we could openly see those costs (like here) and consider the tradeoffs.

60 Enquiring Mind September 20, 2016 at 10:21 am

The Berkeley matter captures so much of what is wrong with ‘well-meaning legislation’. There are the emotional hooks, the concrete examples and the laudable goals. And then there are the hidden beneficiaries who undermine the 20%, say, agreeable aspects of the program with 80% of rent-seeking ‘unintended consequences’. The 20% get the press leading up to the passage, and also the press whenever there are subsequent challenges. “Think of the children”.

While the 80/20 allocation is for example, there are likely numerous social legislation programs afflicted with similar problems. A servile or purchased press only compounds the current and future problems.

61 albatross September 20, 2016 at 10:11 am

I wonder how hard it would be to crowd source the corrections to the automated closed captioning.

62 grendelkhan September 20, 2016 at 8:40 pm
63 dearieme September 20, 2016 at 10:25 am

There is a disconcerting absence here of derisive laughter directed at Berkeley.

64 Bob from Ohio September 20, 2016 at 1:38 pm

If only left wing places like Berkeley were targets, we could laugh more.

65 Axa September 21, 2016 at 6:11 am

Berkeley is a great at fundamental physics and chemistry. That’s what matters.

66 Jeffery Mewtamer September 20, 2016 at 10:41 am

Speaking as a functionally blind university student, I’d like to say that I count my school’s disability office among the worthless bureaucracy that I wish we could get rid of so the students and professors could go about learning and teaching without overpaid administrators putting stumbling blocks in our way at every step. I get more assistance just talking to my professors than I get from the Disability Office metaphorically bending over backwards.

That said, it’d be nice if some of the R&D dollars the government spent on giving the military new tools for terrorizing whatever group of foreigners the government wants to scapegoat were redirected to improving the quality and availability of cross-platform OCR and Speech-to-text technology or maybe some government investment into tactile user interfaces. I’m mostly satisfied with the quality of text-to-speech on my Linux systems(be nice if Orca could read Japanese so I could make use of my limited knowledge of the language or if it strung what non-Latin characters it can read into words) and my blind friends who use Windows seem content with the quality of text-to-speech there, but currently available OCR technology leaves much to be desired, and if the automated phone systems that have implemented voice recognition are any indicator, I feel sorry for the deaf. I must also express amazement at how little wheelchairs and leg braces have changed in the last twenty years.

And provided the lecturer was worth listening to, I’d love to stream or, better yet, download a few courses worth of lectures even if I miss out on a significant amount of information without the accompanying visuals. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but actually writing that thousand words is hard(though, considering how hard it is to squeeze a 100k word novel into a 2 hour movie when the 1 picture = 1k words says 2-hours even at 1fps should be worth 7.2M words, I think the adage is either overvaluing pictures or undervaluing words).

67 Daniel Weber September 20, 2016 at 1:44 pm

If the government really wanted to help, they’d fund making whatever materials are in highest demand the most accessible.

This whole thing shows the destructive power of the veto.

68 Slocum September 20, 2016 at 5:36 pm

I sympathize, but the government throwing money at OCR, speech-recognition, and image recognition/understanding isn’t going to help. There are already enormous rewards waiting in the marketplace, but these are terrifically hard problems, and current approaches may already be close to their limits. How good can ‘mechanical’ character or speech recognition ever be with a ‘dumb’ system that has no actual understanding?

69 Mike W September 20, 2016 at 11:01 am

“By the way, if you are wondering, all of MRU’s videos for our Principles of Microeconomics and Principles of Macroeconomics courses are captioned in English and most are also professionally captioned in Spanish, Arabic and Chinese.”

That’s nice but I don’t believe the ADA has anything to do with language accessibility. Why aren’t your videos in Braille? Expect a letter from the DOJ.

70 ant1900 September 20, 2016 at 11:44 am

The DOL requires some benefit plan documents to be translated if a portion of your workforce (10%) is only literate in a specific foreign language.

71 Thiago Ribeiro September 20, 2016 at 12:35 pm

” … all of MRU’s videos for our Principles of Microeconomics and Principles of Macroeconomics courses are captioned in English and most are also professionally captioned in Spanish, Arabic and Chinese.”
But not in Portuguese… How hateful can you get? My education is being held back. I am being oppressed.

72 Hazel Meade September 20, 2016 at 11:31 am

I wonder to what extent even the DOJ bureaucrats would agree that it is absurd, but feels that their hands are tied given the mission they have been tasked with and their obligations to enforce the laws as interpreted by the courts.

This really brings to light the inefficiencies of the legislative process. Ultimately, only the legislature can change the law, the courts are bound to interpret it as written and the bureaucrats must follow the courts interpretation. But the process of enacting legislative change is so indirect and cumbersome that it is nearly impossible to revise something like this by appealing to the voters. The political process is polarized into tribal camps who will irrationally defend anything that their “side” is implicated in, and the fact that any election amounts to a binary choice covering thousands of issues means that issues like this are almost always driven entirely by dedicated interest groups, rather than any sort of rational deliberation. Lawyers make money out of litigating cases like this and can always appeal to team/herd mentality to stop it from being fixed.

73 Bob from Ohio September 20, 2016 at 1:31 pm

“mission they have been tasked with ”

They are slaves? They can exercise discretion or resign can’t they? Yet, they don’t

People who go to work for the DOJ love sending letters like this. Making people and institutions bend to their will is the reason they took the job. The more absurd the law, the better they like it.

74 Mike W September 20, 2016 at 1:56 pm

I wonder to what extent those bureaucrats feel pressure…and have the latitude…to moderate their enforcement based on the wishes of the administration in power.

75 Hazel Meade September 20, 2016 at 2:00 pm

Sure, but how much is just on autopilot? Or driven by incentives like the need to demonstrate that they are doing things? How much of this is really busywork for the drones running on autopilot until it runs into an absurdity?

76 Slocum September 20, 2016 at 5:44 pm

This is potentially a really. big. deal. If it applies to UC Berkeley, why not to the millions of instructional videos on YouTube? Or to the Khan Academy’s free lessons? Or all the organizations providing online professional certification courses or online courses for profession ‘CEUs’. And what of the DOJ applies the rules for accessibility for the blind as well as the deaf? The impact would be huge. This is simply not the kind of thing kicked out by low-level bureaucrats dutifully following rules.

77 grendelkhan September 20, 2016 at 8:42 pm

Or to the Khan Academy’s free lessons?

Khan Academy’s videos are subtitled; some of them are translated into literally dozens of languages. They use crowdsourced translations; it was previously done through Amara, but I think they’ve moved to a different platform–I’m not sure. But their content is already accessible.

78 Daniel Weber September 21, 2016 at 2:44 pm

Is it accessible to the blind?

It seems just last week I was talking about how pay toilets failed in DC because the handicap-accessible were being used by prostitutes for sex and the providers couldn’t only get rid of the handicap-accessible units.

79 Dan in Euroland September 20, 2016 at 11:34 am

The goal of the liberal elite is to create permanent underclasses through which they can perpetuate their rule, as the lib can credibly commit to redistributive policy. The more people on the dole the more powerful Libs become. So of course they are going to promote the destruction of easy access education materials.

80 Dan in Euroland September 20, 2016 at 11:36 am

And just to give a citation: https://works.bepress.com/davideticchi/11/

81 Bob from Ohio September 20, 2016 at 1:34 pm

“They’ll turn us all into beggars ’cause they’re easier to please”

82 GoneWithTheWind September 20, 2016 at 11:37 am

DUH! Isn’t that what socialism/Marxism/communism is all about. Bringing everyone down to the same level (except the elite leaders of course). Isn’t that why we put/force people into K-12 classrooms who can neither understand nor benefit from what is being taught but who can and do disrupt the education of the 99% who are their to learn? Isn’t that what we see today in Venezuela where the common man/woman has to eat from dumpsters and beg for food while the elite leaders have so much money stashed in Swiss bank accounts that they can’t even count that high? Isn’t that the whole purpose and intent of left wing politics?. I submit it is the intent of the DOJ to tear down anything that can allow people to improve themselves and thus create an equality of poverty of wealth and knowledge.

83 Thomas Taylor September 20, 2016 at 12:41 pm

Are the folks in Venezuela made to write “their” when they obviously mean “there” while the DOJ and Clinton (is it even a difference anymore?) make them eat from dumpsters in Pyongyang or whatever it is that you think is happening in the USA?

84 JWatts September 20, 2016 at 4:13 pm

I fail to grasp the intended meaning of your response.

85 Thomas Taylor September 20, 2016 at 5:06 pm

I am sure you fail, but it is more Nature’s fault than the DOJ’s https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quod_natura_non_dat,_Salmantica_non_pr%C3%A6stat

86 JWatts September 20, 2016 at 5:22 pm

That didn’t really clear up your intended meaning.

87 Thiago Ribeiro September 20, 2016 at 6:51 pm

“A word to the wise is sufficient” (interestingly, we have an analogous saying). He said you are stupid. “Let’s you and him fight.” Fight! Fight! Fight!

88 JWatts September 21, 2016 at 9:31 am

He implied it. Similar to how my comments implied he was an ineffective communicator.

He posted some word salad and reacted to my query with a pompous bit of Latin. I’m not stupid nor do my comments lead anyone to that conclusion, but the evidence does indicate that he is a poor communicator. (At least regarding written blog posts.)

89 Thiago Ribeiro September 21, 2016 at 12:09 pm

I say hit him already.

90 GoneWithTheWind September 20, 2016 at 8:00 pm

Thomas you are absolutely right I used their when I should have used there. It’s not the first time. I admit when I write/type fast I get ahead of what my fingers are doing. I should review my posts but I get lazy. No excuses. But thankfully I do not feel the need to correct others misspellings and grammar errors when the errors are so small that there is no misunderstanding of the intent. I wish you well in over coming that urge in the future.

91 Thiago Ribeiro September 20, 2016 at 8:22 pm

Hit him! Hit him already!

92 Thomas Taylor September 20, 2016 at 8:50 pm

I wish you can overcome your urge to write words you can’t spell about things you don’t understand .

93 GoneWithTheWind September 21, 2016 at 11:18 am

Well clearly I can spell both words and understand their different meaning. I do understand that you had no rebuttal and your only option was to attack the messenger. You are free to continue to bloviate and dance around the issue if that makes you comfortable.

94 Thomas Taylor September 21, 2016 at 12:33 pm

Or else the DOJ will make me to eat from dumpsters?

95 Thomas Taylor September 21, 2016 at 12:34 pm

* make me it from dumpsters?

96 nimim. k.m. September 21, 2016 at 7:53 pm

Dunno, here in Finland we have wheelchair ramps all over the place, but MOOCs are not taken down.

97 required September 22, 2016 at 9:10 am

“Bringing everyone down to the same level (except the elite leaders of course). ”

No, this is the goal of all elites who hold power in any form of government. Only those that do not feel themselves as elites are able to commune with the people and represent them.

98 foobarista September 20, 2016 at 12:34 pm

What is the basis of going after the university? You don’t pay for the courses, and they don’t lead to a degree, so there’s no “service” being provided by the university (I think).

On this basis, they could file ADA charges against every freeware porn site on the planet, or Youtube, etc.

99 Sturt September 20, 2016 at 1:24 pm

Just as an aside, can anyone imagine the New York Times penning an editorial today such as the 1979 example linked to by Alex? One which raised questions about the universal validity of antidiscrimination law, AND offered a case for withdrawing subsidies from the working disabled? Imagine a world in which the Times understood the unintended consequences of regulation. It apparently existed.

100 Rich Berger September 20, 2016 at 1:32 pm

Who knew that the passage of nondiscrimination laws in the 1960’s, intended to help blacks, would set in motion an endless stream of such legislation? And that legislation would be used as a battering ram to destroy freedom of association and contract and impose the will of enlightened lawmakers on the deplorables? It would be interesting to see who warned us.

101 dearieme September 20, 2016 at 3:24 pm

No doubt anyone who warned you was sneered at, with much shouting of “slippery slope fallacy”.

102 Rich Berger September 20, 2016 at 5:20 pm
103 Bob from Ohio September 20, 2016 at 1:36 pm

Why are liberal institutions like Berkeley such cesspools of discrimination?

104 Boonton September 20, 2016 at 4:00 pm

Exactly what are the expensive costs in making the material accessible? Are there plenty of free text to speech reader programs out there or even captioning programs? UC Berkerly doesn’t have a huge computer science department that could make a class project out of building up accessibility tools for the library of online material that could then be scaled up and out for free?

105 sort_of_knowledgable September 20, 2016 at 6:36 pm

complaints
1.
Automatically generated captions were inaccurate and incomplete, making the content inaccessible to individuals with hearing disabilities.
2.
Approximately half the videos did not provide audio description or any other alternative format for the visual information (graphs, charts, animations, or items on the chalkboard) contained in the videos. For example, in one video lecture, a professor pointed to and talked about an image and its structure without describing the image, making it inaccessible to individuals with vision disabilities.

So automated captioning programs are not always sufficient especially likely if the speaker is a visiting professor with a strong accent using technical language. And then somebody has to manually provide a description of all visual information or else trust that the automated image descriptor doesn’t describe a black man as an ape.

106 Boonton September 20, 2016 at 9:55 pm

Someone viewing a tape using captions presumably would have sight but lack hearing so the visual image of a chart or graph wouldn’t be the problem. An automated caption would be a good starting point, I suspect a school could use a wikipedia like system to correct and refine such captions.

What you’re describing sounds like a blind person who can hear the video but cannot see it. Captions are of no use there but you would either need a secondary audio track to describe graphs, charts, images for the blind or have some alternative media that could render such images. I’m curious as to how the school would address an actual tuition paying blind student. Do all textbooks have a braille version available? Do they have the equivalent of braille for equations, charts, graphs etc?

I still suspect there’s a bit of crying wolf here. The school is assuming the most excessive cost possible to make the archive more handicapped accessible (i.e. professional captioning companies to be employed for each hour of video, etc.) when the reality is they could probably get a huge piece of the job done for free by simply asking for student volunters

107 sort_of_knowledgable September 21, 2016 at 12:06 am

I note that dictation software works best when the speaker takes an hour or so to train it which the teachers may or may not be willing to do. They may do a decent job even untrained with a standard English speaker but there is the potential for some spectacular failures with heavily accented speakers.

It might interesting to try the public broadcasting model. We need your support to keep offering these free courses. Please volunteer a few minutes correcting the captions or describing the visuals so we can be ADA compliant or we will be forced to stop. Your efforts will also reinforce the course lessons. There is a question of whether there is a standard class descriptor style that needs to be adhered to. And the class has to be non ADA compliant until the first set of students take the course.

There are also more complaints like the color schemes were not distinguishable for color blind people. The link to the complaint is in the article and you can look it and write a fully comprehensive plan on how UCB can be compliant for a minimal cost.

108 Anon7 September 21, 2016 at 12:17 am

Universities have offices with a range of services available for matriculated students with disabilities. The already stretched budgets of universities should not be stretched further simply to provide free content for non-matriculated folks with disabilities. I seriously doubt that enough student volunteers would be willing and able to make all of the material accessible according to ADA standards, and it will still cost money for overpaid administrators (fat chance that they’ll volunteer) to administer such a program.

109 Boonton September 21, 2016 at 7:05 am

” The already stretched budgets of universities”….

Stretched? Yes you’re referring to all those stories about universities slashing their tuition and how their endowments are so small.

110 Anon7 September 21, 2016 at 4:09 pm

Public universities like Berkeley are not in the same financial situation as the likes of Harvard. Regardless, neither has a duty to subsidize non-matriculated folks. It’s amazing how generous you are with other people’s time and money.

111 Boonton September 22, 2016 at 6:27 am

If they are public universities exactly whose money is it? It might be mine!

112 Massimo Heitor September 20, 2016 at 5:15 pm

Wow, I’ve taken and _loved_ some classes on edx.org offered through UC BerkeleyX. It would be a loss if they were taken down due to accessibility laws.

113 Craig Loehle September 21, 2016 at 2:33 pm

Is there a requirement for every professor to have a sign language interpreter in class? Why not?

114 required September 22, 2016 at 9:14 am

There is only a requirement where if a sign language interpreter is needed than one must be provided for any institution with public funds (state grants and federal grants including pell grant). It is not required for every professor.

115 Craig Loehle September 21, 2016 at 2:36 pm

this also reflects the insane belief that if you just order entities to do things (provide health care, raise wages, subtitle videos) it will just happen for free using magic money. It is the belief that we can create a perfect society by fiat.

116 nimim. k.m. September 21, 2016 at 8:17 pm

America continues to produce weird A.D.A. news with weird concepts on the word ‘reasonable’.

However, regarding the title of that NYTimes article … I’m inclined to believe that nowadays, buses with the ability to ‘kneel’ towards sidewalks are so usual that they are not that expensive compared to the ones without. I’d wager it’s a standard feature in new models, and users include also old people without wheelchairs and parents with strollers.

117 Karl Marx September 21, 2016 at 11:24 pm

Agree DOJ may be less sensitive to costs than MR crowd. But costs may be overstated. Consider

1. YouTube will caption a video, or 10,000 videos for free. DOJ did not say captions need to be high quality

2. YouTube also provides tools to crowdsourcing captions. Assume but don’t know that a crowd could fix the bot goofs

3. Assume popular courses would get fixed first. Good. UC could offer to take requests from disable students to move obscure courses up the crowdsource queue. DOJ happy? Dunno.

4. Recall that Facebook built >100 localized sites starting in 2009, using its community only. Someone built a FB site in freaking Klingon. Crowds are cheap.

None of this negates DOJ innumeracy. But it does challenge the premise that this is an expensive problem to fix.

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