Response to National Association of the Deaf lawsuit

May 11, 2015

Dear faculty colleagues:

As you may know, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is suing MIT, asking a federal judge to order MIT to caption all audio and video content that faculty, students, staff, or any person posts on Internet locations that MIT controls. NAD is suing Harvard in a separate but substantively identical lawsuit. Today, MIT and Harvard are filing close to identical responses to NAD's complaint, and I am writing you this note to help explain the thought process behind our response.

The Institute is committed to accessibility. MIT strives to make its online material accessible to learners with disabilities. We post rolling transcripts alongside all video content in MITx courses. Many of the OCW videos posted over the years have been captioned, and all new OCW videos are being captioned. We also provide accessible educational content and technologies to our enrolled disabled students.

In this lawsuit, NAD asks the Court to require MIT to caption all of our on-line material or remove it. While we can always strive to do more, we are concerned with the potential impact of NAD's demands. We are making two requests in our motion.

The first request is to stay the lawsuit. The Department of Justice is currently writing regulations for accessibility of Internet sites. The DoJ has announced that it will issue a draft of these regulations by the end of June. Because we want to ensure that MIT is not required to operate its web platforms under different rules from everyone else, we are asking the Court to at least suspend the lawsuit until the DoJ completes its rulemaking process.

The second request is to dismiss the lawsuit. As part of its mission of research and teaching, MIT has long been committed to making lots of information available to the world through the Internet, free of charge. We allow anyone affiliated with MIT to easily post video and other materials on the website, TechTV, MIT Video, and MIT-associated accounts on YouTube and iTunesU. NAD demands that MIT caption or remove all audio or video content posted to all of these Internet locations. While we are committed to providing accommodations to make our educational content accessible, we are concerned about the implications of a uniform "caption or remove" rule for all video content on the Internet. In our case, the immediate challenge of complying with such a rule will fall on departments, faculty and students. This would likely lead to the need to take down content already in use by others, at least until we are able to caption this material. Therefore, if the Court does not suspend the lawsuit until the DoJ provides rules, we ask the Court to dismiss the lawsuit because the law does not require what NAD is seeking.

Seeking to stay or dismiss the lawsuit will not end our discussions with NAD. We hope to reach a reasonable arrangement with NAD that balances the important interests at issue.

I hope you will share with me any questions you have.


Martin A. Schmidt