A Positive Approach to Captioning in Higher Education

Closed Captioning in Higher Education

Over the past couple of years – and after several lawsuits filed against a few Ivy League schools – a growing number of universities are working toward accessibility compliance with their online video courses. Initially, the process can be overwhelming and take up a lot of resources. One university even resorted to removing its public library of 20,000 free educational videos because of a complaint filed by the Department of Justice. Unfortunately, because accessibility requirements are often met by a big-bad lawsuit when standards are not met, the whole process gets a negative designation right from the get-go.

Where to Begin

It appears that the initial obstacle for universities is a lack of appropriate education on both the requirements and the benefits of closed captioning. Often, universities do not take the proper initiative in allocating suitable funding or appropriately equipping the classrooms until the school is approached by an organization advocating for accessibility rights – at which time the need to comply becomes a time-crunched burden with a possible lawsuit attached.

It’s important to know that public and private educational institutions must provide equal access for students with disabilities in agreement with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as detailed in Title II (publicly-funded universities & vocational schools) and Title III (privately funded). Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 also ensure equal accessibility in any system of higher education that receives federal funding.

Beyond ensuring equal accessibility to all students, closed captioning is used as an effective learning tool by a significant percentage of students who do not self-identify as having difficulty with hearing. The availability of lecture and video transcripts helps students review and retain information outside of the classroom. It also aids students with learning disabilities, as well as ESL students.

Breaking Down the Roadblocks

Universities should not be overwhelmed by the thought of having to equip classrooms with an array of expensive technologies. The closed captioning process is simple. As long as clear audio can be transferred via the internet or a phone line, real-time captioners can write remotely to a variety of web platforms across multiple devices already available to students – devices such as mobile phones or laptops.

Furthermore, the educational value and benefits of closed captioning are often overlooked when it’s perceived as economically burdensome. Captioning is not only for the deaf and hard of hearing. Recognizing the value of captioning as a successful tool for all students should motivate all administrators to provide captioning on all their online courses.