Welcome to the Americans With Disabilities Act section of our webpage.
This front page will reflect our most current information on federal disabilities law affecting educational institutions.
The Wave of Website and other ADA Accessibility Claims: What you Should Know, posted Feb. 22, 2016 by Littler Mendelson, P.C.
National Association for the Deaf v. Harvard, Case No. 3:15-cv-30023-MGM, (U.S. D.Ct. Massachusetts), Feb. 9, 2016. In this case, four plaintiffs and the National Association for the Deaf brought suit against Harvard for failing to provide equal access to the deaf and hard of hearing individuals for much of the audio and audiovisual content that Harvard makes available online to the general public for free. The content is not captioned for those who are deaf. The case seeks to require Harvard to provide timely, accurate captioning of the content. On Feb. 9th, the court dismissed Harvard's motion for summary judgment, making the following statements in reviewing the case:
On 504 Standard
Section 504 provides as its general rule that “[n]o otherwise qualified individual with a disability … shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance….” 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). A “program or activity” includes “all of the operations of – … a college, university, or other postsecondary institution.” 29 U.S.C. § 794(b)(2)(A). One of the explicit policies underlying the enactment of Section 504 was to ensure that “all programs, projects, and activities receiving assistance … [are] carried out in a manner consistent with the principles of … respect for the privacy, rights, and equal access (including the use of accessible formats), of … individuals [with disabilities].” 29 U.S.C. §701(c)(2).
On ADA Standard
This case concerns Title III, which provides that “[n]o individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns … or operates a place of public accommodation.” 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a). Private schools, including undergraduate and postgraduate institutions, and other places of education, are public accommodations. Id. § 12181(7)(J).
Title III prohibits public accommodations from discriminating against the disabled by, “directly, or through contractual, licensing, or other arrangements,” denying individuals on the basis of disability the opportunity “to participate in or benefit from the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of an entity,” or providing them with an “opportunity to participate in or benefit from a good, service, facility, privilege, advantage, or accommodation that is not equal to that afforded to other individuals.” Id. § 12182(b)(1)(A)(i)-(ii). See also 28 C.F.R. § 36.202(a)-(b).
The regulations further provide that “[a] public accommodation shall furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities.” 28 C.F.R. § 36.303(c)(1). ***The regulations define the term “auxiliary aids and services” to include, among other things, “open and closed captioning, including real-time captioning; … or other effective
methods of making aurally delivered information available to individuals who are deaf or hard of
hearing.” Id. § 36.303(b).
On Motion to Dismiss
...striking the appropriate balance between accommodating the rights of Plaintiffs and
not unduly burdening Harvard requires a fact intensive inquiry that is not suitable for resolution
on a motion to dismiss. ***
Harvard argues that Plaintiffs cannot base their claim on the general prohibitions against
discrimination contained in 34 C.F.R. § 104.4 of DOE’s regulations.Contrary to Harvard’s assertion, the general provisions of DOE’s regulations also support Plaintiffs’ theory of discrimination. Section 104.4 prohibits federal fund recipients from denying qualified handicapped persons the opportunity to participate in or benefit from provided aids, benefits, andservices; affording qualified handicapped persons an unequal opportunity to participate in or benefit from provided aids, benefits, or services; and providing qualified handicapped persons with aids, benefits, or services that are not as effective as those provided to others. 34 C.F.R. § 104.4(b)(1)(i)-(iii). For aids, benefits, and services to be “equally effective,” they “must afford handicapped persons equal opportunity to obtain the same result, to gain the same benefit, or to reach the same level of achievement.” Id. at § 104.4(b)(2). In other words, these regulations are consistent with the requirement of “meaningful access,” and, as set forth above, Plaintiffs have adequately pleaded a lack of meaningful access. ***
The court declines to draw any inference from the fact that § 104.4 does not explicitly
address the responsibilities of federal fund recipients vis-á-vis website accessibility. Online
content may not be specifically mentioned in the regulation, but neither is it specifically
Press Release on Settlement Agreement Between Department of Justice and Kent State University on Therapy Animals, January 4, 2016. See also the Consent Decree.