Department of Justice: If Disabled People Can't Use Berkeley's Free Online Courses, No One Can

The university will have to remove free online content that doesn't meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.



Harrison Bergeron should enroll at the University of California-Berkeley. The federal Department of Justice recently informed the university that the online content it makes available to the public free of charge runs afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act—blind and deaf people wouldn't be able to access it, according to the government.

In response, Berkeley is considering simply removing the online resources, since that's much cheaper than becoming ADA compliant.

You might say, well, Berkeley is a public university, and has a responsibility to make its resources available to all students, regardless of their disability status. That's true. But here's the thing: no Berkeley student has complained. The online courses have proven to be perfectly accessible to the entire student body thus far.

According to DOJ's memo, the two complainants are both members of the National Association for the Deaf. They work for Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf in Washington, DC. They have nothing to do with Berkeley. They tried to watch some of the videos Berkeley posted online, but found that they were unable to comprehend them.

If Berkeley had not made its online courses free and public, it would not have invited this complaint. But since anyone is allowed to watch the university's online lectures and videos, the fact that some of them aren't captioned—and are thus inaccessible to the hearing-disabled community—is a problem, as far as the law is concerned.

Since accommodating two random people—activists for the disabled community, it seems—would be extremely costly, Berkeley is probably going to just get rid of the offending resources entirely, according to a press release:

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.

Special thanks to the DOJ—fulfilling its role here as the Handicapper General—for ensuring equal access to public education, where "equal access" is defined as "no access for anybody."

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  1. Burn it all down. We’re done here.

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  2. I feel bad for the deaf people involved here.



    But … seriously, this just makes me sad. Online education like this is the future, and they’re going to ruin it with this type of idiocy.

    1. It’s possible that ruining it is the point. What are 20,000 Filipino Queer Basket Weaving Studies majors going to do without getting jobs as college professors (or college administrators)? Online education means you only need one.

  3. Waiting for every national park to be closed as not being sufficiently handicapped accessible.

    1. You can find plenty of handicapped parking spaces at national park trailheads, including for trails that are extremely difficult. It’s apparently irrelevant that if a person can manage a difficult trail, he can also manage to walk a few extra feet to get to the trailhead.

      1. I’ve wondered about that for years, it’s never made sense. Either you’re handicapped enough to not be able to handle the trail, or you aren’t and therefore it makes zero sense to have the parking spot. Whatever. Maybe it’s a trap for those on disability through fraud, but that would mean our government is competent so…probably not.

        1. Part of it is really trying to cross a parking lot. I qualify for a disabled sticker because me crossing the parking lot is a danger due to not being able to hear the cars around me. However I can manage a difficult trail head.

          Of course, I have to be extra careful because of the assholes who drive in the parking lots and are endangering not just me, but everyone. That’s a different conversation however.

          And no, I don’t have a disabled sticker, because I figure I have eyes and those are pretty useful. Anyone honking their horn at me is just entertaining themselves, so whatever.

      2. your comment is based upon the proposition that gummint offishuls can reason competently. I suggest that is a false premise.

    2. Waaaay back when I was a kid, the mid-60s I think, I remember a bunch of disabled people chained themselves to San Francisco cable cars to protest …. something. It was thrown out only because the cable cars are a registered national landmark.

      I remember at the time wondering how long before they started shutting down national parks. When would Half Dome be declared off limits to everybody because it wasn’t sheelchair-accessible?

      1. We’re proud, not of the medical aspect of deafness, but of the language we use and the community we live in.’

        Nothing’s stopping anyone from using ASL or equivalent – whether or not they can hear. He’s just mad the rest of us choose not to use it because its functionally as useful as Klingon.

        1. As someone who went to RIT, which has a significantly large deaf population because the university also has NTID as part of it, sign language has some tremendously important applications. For example, you can have a conversation with someone 100′ away from you or across a room, and since it’s like Klingon to everyone else, you can have a personal conversation across a room and no one can listen in. I’ve see it happen, and it’s the funniest thing in the world.

          Works great at concerts or other loud venues.

          1. You’re just appropriating the Drasnian secret language, and I am thoroughly offended on their behalf.

            1. I have a safe space ready for you. Sorry I didn’t include a trigger warning on the comment.

              1. does your safe place also include in the package safe clothing? You know, those funny looking white jackets with the VERY long sleeves, and small tethers on the cuffs just where they need to be to tie the two of them together?

          2. I can do that also – its called text messaging.


            1. Oh, so now you want to use another mode of communication the deaf can’t use, you hater?

              1. Why wouldn’t a deaf person be able to text? A blind person might have trouble, though…as would a fossil like me, not because it’s ‘another mode of communication’ but because it uses a different language than standard English.

                1. So if a blind person can’t watch a movie, no one is allowed to?

          3. The first time I saw the woman who would later become my wife, she was having a conversation like the one you describe, under just the circumstances you describe.

            1. It must have been a turn on

        2. The best part about this is that the quote is from someone named Tomato.

    1. I’ve heard that Helen Keller was a terrible lay.

      1. Sounds like something someone would say because someone couldn’t get her to the sack.

      2. Yeah, I read a joke about that in Truly Tasteless Jokes Part XVIII.

        But I won’t repeat it here.

    2. Deaf people are like the Super Mutants in the Fallout universe. They can’t reproduce so they make their presence known in other ways.

  4. Can’t they be grandfathered in or something?

    That’s how the NYC subway hasn’t been shut down despite being on the hook for the trillions of dollars it will take to make it “compliant”.

    1. They don’t have the political pull to get an exemption. At least not yet. Let the media spin this up a little into an embarrassment and the applicable agency will ‘expedite the paperwork’.

  5. “But if we cant have liberty, shouldnt we at least have equality?” — some people on this site

    And this is why the answer is no.

    1. That was a reddit commenter.

      1. No, plenty of others here too. The reddit guy was just more straight forward about it.

        For an example, see eliminating state marriage licensing (liberty) vs gay marriage (equality).

        1. I’m not against eliminating state marriage licensing. But keeping the status quo wasn’t going to get Alabama and some other southern states off their dead ass about it either.

          But, no, it shouldn’t be a federal dictate, either to ban it or force states to allow it.

          1. That whole debacle shows the way forward on how the U.S. government will subvert religious liberty entirely. Just coopt anything a religion does and call it a function of the state and *BOOM* magically it’s no longer a religious freedom issue it’s a tax issue, or a penalty issue, or a benefits issue so it’s not really protected anymore.

            I mean, when did marriage become a function of the state since it’s traditionally a union before god? Not that I believe necessarily in some higher power, but what compelling interest could the government possibly have in who marries what? I mean, beyond just naked power over your life with the ability to divide people into subservient voting bloc’s that is.

            1. I mean, when did marriage become a function of the state since it’s traditionally a union before god?

              From wikipedia:

              Hardwicke’s Marriage Act 1753 affirmed this existing ecclesiastical law and built it into statutory law.

              For the UK, And even that was still required the Church (although Jewish and Quaker marriages were also recognized).

              1. It was more of a rhetorical question but I appreciate the effort. ^_^

            2. that came about mostly as the “church”, that is, the ecclesiastical power structure that consumes untold quantities of money, accreted more power and control over all of life to itself. As said organisation (Church of England, mainly, but some of the “protestant” groups on the Continent as well) looked about to see where they could gain more control over people’s lives, marriage and all that was associated with it (children, community property, and, especially after Henry 8, divorce and the messy process of “dividing the spoils”, which issue he avoided on at least one occasion by simply dividing his wife’s head from her body) a whole system of laws, records, licenses, fees, registries, magistrates was invented to perpetuate the myth. As the Colonies formed, and later this nation, all that baggage was incorporated. None of it is valid. Yet it persists as one more accoutrement of the runaway tyrannical state.

              1. In the Catholic areas of Switzerland, Austria and southern Germany into the early 1500’s infant baptism was also a defacto registration of birth with the state. Then the pacifist Anabaptists (forerunners of the modern Amish and Mennonites) announced they were not going to baptize their children, as that was something one had to decide upon for themselves, and they also did not want to take up arms against the invading Moslem horde.

                Those views got them quickly labeled as deplorables.

  6. AS stupid as this is, well . . . it *is* Berkeley.

    Live by the sword of social justice, die by the sword of social justice.

    1. I’m surprised they didn’t already have someone doing sign language in every video.

      1. They got so focused on foreign and environmental policies, they forgot about the domestic issues.

      2. I’m pretty sure they expected to get a pass because ‘they one of the good ones’.

  7. “””They work for Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf in Washington, DC. “”””

    So they combine deaf activism with government force to make every equally ignorant.

    1. Isn’t this the same place which protests medical advancements which can make the deaf hear?

      1. I think it’s some people there, but I doubt they’re institutional spokespeople.


      2. The objection isn’t really to make the deaf hear. It’s that people can’t understand why one would choose to be deaf. They insist on “fixing” you, even if you aren’t really broken. There’s also a lot of fear that if one can be “fixed”, then the next step is forcing you to be “fixed”. Our government doesn’t respect bodily autonomy and the people can be persuaded that those deaf people who INSIST on staying deaf are costing us money and if they’d just be fixed.

        I don’t want to be “fixed”. But honestly, I don’t trust people either. Even now I get it constantly from people “You can get a cochlear!!!” They obviously don’t understand how that works and why I’ve made the choice to not do so at this time. They also don’t care. “You’re missing so much!” I know what I’m missing, thank you. I’ve been hearing, but there’s more than just hearing/not hearing involved in this. And for those deaf since birth? They aren’t “missing” anything any more than you are “missing” something by not being a cannibal.

        None of this excuses it. It doesn’t make me militant, but the first step to getting rid of these types is to understand why they exist.

        1. I understand, and I don’t want people coerced – but I also would defend the freedom of others to choose to have hearing.

  8. You have no idea how much difficulty this is causing universities around the country. Not being compliant with ‘Accessibility’ requirements can be extremely expensive–closed captioning for every video put out by the university (including play-by-play of football games), making sure every website is structured for screen readers, getting all faculty to format their syllabi so that screen readers can read them (not difficult to do, but persuading faculty to do anything is somewhat of a chore 🙂 )
    And universities that haven’t snapped to it quickly enough have been served with horrendous fines by our DC overseers.
    I don’t have anything against blind folks getting educated, but the idea that ‘if EVERYONE can’t access it, nobody should be allowed to’ is ridiculous.
    If you’re interested, look at what happened when some universities encouraged the use of Kindles for textbooks. BANG! Big lawsuit against the universities, who then backed off. I once met the ‘ambulance-chasing’ lawyer who filed the suit. He was exactly the way you would imagine him.

    1. getting all faculty to format their syllabi so that screen readers can read them

      Or maybe the screen readers should get better at their job.

      1. Note: I am blaming the programmers, not the software.

        1. Doesn’t matter who you offload the problem on – it’s extremely expensive.

          1. Yes, so let the consumer who wants the expensive version pay for it, via building a better reader.

            1. Oh, everyone is going to pay in the end.

          2. For the programmer, its is extremely expensive *once*.

            For the syllabi preppers, its is moderately expensive *a lot*.

            1. Not every problem can be solved by throwing more money at the programmer. That’s what standards are for and frankly the school should have known about them since I’ve been hearing about them for a decade or more.

              But of course, they should not be forced to shut down the content – that’s just stupid.

              1. There are still costs to mandating compliance with the screen reader. Especially as I’m willing to bet there is not one single standard for screen readers either.

    2. so what your saying is every historical written item that is not ADA compliant should be burned.

      1. The constitution is hard to read, its all handwritten and shit.

        Burn baby burn.

        1. Tony just had a little accident.

    3. “look at what happened when some universities encouraged the use of Kindles for textbooks”

      In all fairness, Amazon claimed the Kindle was accessible when it really wasn’t. That being said, Kindle eBooks are completely accessible for the blind via the Kindle app for desktops and iPhones, so their argument was pretty stupid considering there’s a really easy fix.

  9. Employment of disabled people dropped like 7% courtesy of the ADA. Making disabled people even more different than average is a stupid way to try and help. I can only speak for myself, but I want to be held to the same standards as anyone else (criticism being constructive or not depends more on the attitude of the criticee [?] than the intent of the critic), and that’s actually illegal. #notmydetinitionofequality

  10. The federal Department of Justice recently informed the university that the online content it makes available to the public free of charge runs afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act?blind and deaf people wouldn’t be able to access it, according to the government.

    One notices that the mentally challenged are forgotten *again*!

    Why does DOJ not mention retarded people? Wh … Oh. OHHHHHHH!!

    1. I am still curious as to what article of the constitution gives the federal government this power. Other than the invisible FYTW clause of course.

  11. Handicapper General

    *raucous applause, hooting and hollering*

    1. Holy shit, that is reality. That’s kind of upsetting.

  12. so now the government wants stop something thats free? I forgot the government does not like it when people do things of their own free will with out the proper paper work

  13. Is it the Department of Justice, or the Department of Social Justice now? Offering free course materials is ableism, scum!

    1. Oh god, don’t give them ideas.

  14. Floated this story to my progressive lawyer friend. Waiting for the derp.

  15. @robbysoave

    I say this with absolute sincerity: the actress who plays Brienne is by far the most attractive member of the Game of Thrones cast

    1. Don’t kink-shame. Soave just likes his Lolas.

  16. Just euthanize them.

    Problem solved.

      1. Don’t get him started on ?ber.

  17. There was a guy (lawyer) who gave a talk a while back who argued that the ADA was one of the single most wasteful laws ever passed. Costs businesses literally billions every year, but has provided a cumulative net benefit of “Zilch” to actual disabled people. It is entirely designed for the benefit of lawyers.

    Wish i could find it, it was pretty interesting. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was something i found here.

    1. There is a handicapped guy here in SF that makes his living (and it’s a good one) going around business and finding any reason to bring an ADA lawsuit. He has single handidly managed to close a number of small businesses that could not afford to partake the construction updates needed and pay him off.…..-lawsuits/

    2. Hell, it’s obvious just looking around.

      I mentioned the NYC subway. Well, any new work that is done of course must be compliant. New stations, renovated old stations, etc. all require elevators, escalators, the works.

      In 20 years I have seen a wheelchair in the system maybe twice.

      Why? Because they have a whole fucking other system dedicated to them which we are almost certainly paying through the nose for.

      1. A good friend of mine owns a convenience store/restaurant/laundry mat and his parking lot has 50 spaces, two of which are dedicated to disabled placard parking.

        The whole lot is 200 feet long, there’s parking directly in front of each business for the ‘asthmatics’ and old people and he’s not had a single wheelchair customer in two years.

      2. Because they have a whole fucking other system dedicated to them

        Separate but equal? What is this, 1950s Alabama?

        1. More like separate and better. I don’t see the subway carrying me door-to-door without the crowds.

      3. Whenever someone mentions how much they love New York City, I have to resist the urge to tell them that all they things they love are not ADA compliant and should be torn down.

        Even more so, whenever someone mentions how much better Scandinavian countries are than the US, I like to point out that every restaurant has their bathrooms down in the basement by way of a steep narrow staircase and all the doors in public places the wrong way.

    3. The funny thing is, there’s some not-horible to decent stuff in the ADA. Requirements for curb cuts at corners, walk signs that make noise, stuff like that.

      Then they couple it with ‘special protections’ for employment, overly-specific requirements for ‘public accommodations, and then add in massive penalties for the slightest infraction (as in your toilet stall is a half-in too narrow or *too wide).

      Add in an over-broad interpretation of what is a disability.

      Now you’ve got employers incredibly leery of hiring anyone who might need the slightest accommodation and businesses being sued out of existence because even though they are willing to go as far as getting a bunch of burly dudes to lift you and your electric wheelchair (those mofos are heavy) up a couple of steps, clear out space for you to get to your table, remove another table to make space for you – they couldn’t afford to put in the ADA specified ramp.

      1. Isnt that always the case though?

        Of course, most sets of regulations have some good stuff in there. Its the 47 other layers of crap that causes the problems.

    4. Talk to any construction folks who do commercial work. THEY know all about ADA. They can put a loo into a house, a nice one, for a couple grand. Same loo in any publically accessible commercial location will cost at least $10K, and that presumes a space large enough to accomodate the regulation commode and “safe space” round about it, and access. In some commercial remodels where there WERE two loos, to become ADA complaint they are forced to remove one to provide sufficient space for one compliant one. That means MORE cost to demo more space….. that doesn’t count the requirements to bring the rest of the space up to code.

      One thing I always wondered about… for elevators and such, the text also must be in braille…. even if the control panel is a flat touchscreen. So HOW is the braile going to enable a non-sighted person to figure out how to USE the bloody lift? Can anyone else say STOOOOPUD?

  18. I work out of my van driving around the city doing jobs all day. Often it can be difficult to find a bathroom unless I want to order food at a business (most bathrooms in SF have a key behind the counter to keep out bums and druggies and you usually have to buy something). I went into my wholesale parts place a couple months back and walked up the two flights of stairs to their bathroom that was usually open and was now locked. I asked the guys working there why it was. The ADA inspector had been by that week and said that it could not be open to anyone but employees because it wasn’t an ADA bathroom. Never mind the forty steps it takes to reach said bathroom. I took my piss in the street cursing idiotic bureaucrats.

  19. One of the unspoken conflicts in cycling culture is how much cycling infrastructure is blocked by handicap parking requirements. It’s generally derided as “parking”, but no one wants to explicitly call out just what parking it is. The elderly want to be drive themselves to the door of wherever they’re going and refuse to use buses or Uber. Even with a grid model where only main roads are lanes, walking half a block is too much. Businesses are figuring out that, with the exception of maybe breakfast places, foot and bike traffic beats car traffic.

  20. So there won’t be any censure for the two employees of this deaf university for browsing the internet all day at work looking for grievances? Or, wait, is that actually their job or are they just trying to steal free content from Berkley to use at their own university? I’m guessing option two, since they are educators.

    Now, this all being said, I’m actually kind of shocked that Berkley is doing something that doesn’t ‘feel’ good and acknowledging that they are hindered by a budget. Well, I was shocked until I realized that the wording of their ‘memo’ strongly indicates that it’s an appeal for more money based off of feels.

    So, no, not terribly shocking either way. It’s just illustrative of the feedback cycle present in University budgeting. They create professional grievance departments that are then trotted out to demand more money for their budgets to produce more grievance graduates to staff their departments.

  21. Waiting for all stoplights to be augmented with audible warnings. If not done immediately, please remove them all.

  22. Ages ago, I had a run-in with the deaf activists. It was about pay phones (that’s how long ago it was). They wanted all pay phones to be TDD, and any that weren’t should be ripped out and destroyed.

    It was pointed out to them that this wouldn’t increase the number of TDD phones much, but would decrease the number of pay phones. IOW, this approach was going to hurt the public, without a pickup for the deaf.

    They were cool with that. The deaf activists are a weird and savage bunch, very invested in punishing people who aren’t deaf for having the temerity to hear.

    They will see the net reduction of on-line courses as a victory.

    1. You should see how they react to me (a deafie) saying that I wouldn’t support forcing theaters to use captions.

      I had to accept that, as a person losing my hearing, I probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy hearing things anymore. I do LOVE the access, but just not enough to force others to do it outside of certain areas.

      I’m sorry, I do INSIST any government, legal, or medical facilities be forced to provide interpreters. Outside that though, no.

  23. 508 compliance specialists make a shitton of $$ in DC, y’all. They have people here that sit at their desks, looking at web sites all day, saying things like “people with ADD can’t look at a slideshow with more than 3 slides -1 point!”.

  24. A middle ground that would change nothing other than eliminating grounds for such complaints would be to simply restrict access to the content to those with University credentials and a UCB onine access account, which every registered student there would have already. Simply place the content behind a passgate requiring login with student credentials. Of course, nothing would prevent any student sharing his credentials with a third party, thus granting access to others, but at the same time being aware that non-ADA compliant content could be a source of problem to such as these two troublemakers from Gallaudet.

    THIS sort of stuff is NOT why ADA was enacted into law. Good for UCB standing against such gummint tyranny.

    1. @Tionico–
      An interesting approach. Berkeley would need to prohibit students from sharing their log-in credentials, however, just in case some SJW decided to give his credentials to the Gallaudet activists out of spite. Berkeley would not have to punish students for breaking this rule, but it would clarify that Berkeley had no legal obligation to “trespassers.”

  25. I’ve taken a lot of online classes and I helped teach one for UC Berkeley. The course content is closed captioned, so if you are unable to understand the lectures as spoken there is a transcript you can follow. What more could you want?

  26. The federal Department of Justice?

    The federal Department of Injustice.

  27. For the record, it’s not only the ADA that’s an issue, but Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. And while I hold no brief (har har) for the DOJ, Berkeley *is* apparently violating two laws it should have known would apply here, and it’s the duty of Justice to enforce laws, even dumb laws.

  28. As a deaf person, this makes me torn. I appreciate so much having access, but at the same time I just do not like forcing it. I just think that people should make their own decisions, even if that means leaving me out. There’s so much I can’t do since I began losing my hearing and I miss a lot of it. However, that’s kind of my cross to bear.

    That being said, it’s NOT that big a deal to make captions for videos. 10 year old You Tubers do it. Not great mind you, but better than nothing. They shouldn’t have to do it, but honestly, don’t act like it’s 10 miles uphill both ways in the freezing snow.

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  30. Why would the same requirement not apply to all videos posted online?

  31. It seems to be becoming less and less of a joke that the government sees its main purpose as preventing the production and distribution of useful goods and services to the people who want them.

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