Accessibility isn't free, and we need freedom to make things accessible
March 18, 2017 9:12 AM   Subscribe

The University of California at Berkeley recently removed 20,000 videos of lectures from YouTube in response to a lawsuit brought by two students from another university under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The videos lacked closed captions and alternative formats for visual information and were therefore not accessible to some users with disabilities.

LBRY mirrored the videos and made them freely available again though they still lack captions; this is legally possible because the videos were licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.

As Cory Doctorow explains, "the fate of the videos is sad, but it feels like it's also a quirk of history, as the judgment arrived just as it seems likely that videos like these could be subtitled and even translated by software using machine learning." Right now, closed-captioning is an expensive and labor-intensive process, but it will probably be automated in the near future, making it possible for institutions to share more accessible content.

However, the W3C may soon standardize digital rights management (DRM) for streaming videos. So far, the W3C has not promised legal protections for people who try to break this standardized DRM in the interest of making content more accessible to disabled users. In other words, we're about to take a huge leap forward in accessibility of multimedia content, but the W3C may prevent this in order to protect corporate copyright interests.

Accessibility specialist Scott Hollier, who worked for six years as an Advisory Committee representative to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), explains more in an Access iQ article, Concerns raised for assistive technology development as W3C debates encrypted media extensions. "Any sort of locked-down mechanism to support DRM will affect the way in which assistive technologies are able to engage and extract information for software such as screen readers and screen magnifiers, both of which struggled to work effectively under plug-in technologies such as Flash...There is also real concern that future innovation in the development of assistive technology products and their interaction with web browsers may be hampered should [an Encrypted Media Extension] result in restrictions on the availability of information to people with disabilities."
posted by xylothek (80 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
it seems likely that videos like these could be subtitled and even translated by software using machine learning.

Ahahaha no. Try this on any YouTube video. It's almost always a goddamn mess.

It sucks that they removed them, but I wouldn't have been able to use them anyway.
posted by AFABulous at 9:17 AM on March 18 [16 favorites]


Students, please turn to page 2 of the handout entitled Jazz jet Kiddush Krish devising staffed logo.
posted by benzenedream at 9:24 AM on March 18 [34 favorites]


I listened to a bunch of Hubert Dreyfus' lectures from his UCB Heidegger class, on iTunes U, and the audio was terrible. I really doubt automated speech to text would produce anything other than gibberish from them.
posted by thelonius at 9:32 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


We're trying to figure this out at our museum as our lecture-capture system doesn't have a way to add captioning. At this point we're thinking of exporting to YouTube and adding in the captions ourselves, but the bummer with that approach is that we'll need to do a lot of video editing to make the end products look similar. I'll be watching this with a lot of interest.
posted by Mouse Army at 9:36 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


How does removal of this knowledge benefit anyone (disabled or otherwise)? Suppressing knowledge is never a good thing. I thought the ADA was to bring all up to a higher level, not tear down to the lowest common denominator, ignorance.
posted by Mag Plug at 9:45 AM on March 18 [65 favorites]


Ahahaha no. Try this on any YouTube video. It's almost always a goddamn mess.

Right now it is a mess. But we might be on the verge off AI doing a much better job of transcribing video - via lip reading, not speech recognition.
posted by thecjm at 9:46 AM on March 18 [9 favorites]


Take that, people with learning disabilities who rely on those videos!

This is stupid. Sure, the school could and should put subtitles on them, but the fact remains that the videos themselves are accessibility tools for people with disabilities.

Sue the suers.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:52 AM on March 18 [30 favorites]


Ahahaha no. Try this on any YouTube video. It's almost always a goddamn mess.

I heard a lecture by Dick Lyon from google a couple weeks ago on just this very issue. They are getting much better and have even undertaken an enormous project to not just recognize and classify speech but also thousands of environment sounds and noises. According to him, they aren't far from a robust implementation of something to automate this and do so accurately.

But I'm actually a little unclear about why we aren't already great at this. We automate speech to text for deaf students in the classroom all the time. Why is it so much more difficult on videos?
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:59 AM on March 18 [4 favorites]


But we might be on the verge off AI doing a much better job of transcribing video - via lip reading, not speech recognition.

This is fine.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:08 AM on March 18 [4 favorites]


How does removal of this knowledge benefit anyone (disabled or otherwise)? Suppressing knowledge is never a good thing. I thought the ADA was to bring all up to a higher level, not tear down to the lowest common denominator, ignorance.

While correct about the end effect, that misunderstands what the case was about.

The case was from people with disabilities who wanted to use the videos to learn (via open course-ware, not as registered students) but needed the videos to be brought up to ADA compliance in order for them to do so due to hearing impairment. Since the school was a government entity, the courts agreed, and said the school had to comply with ADA on its open course-ware.

There was an out, however, in the fine-print: if the videos were removed from open course-ware, then the claim disappears on standing grounds (since the complainants were not registered students). Ultimately, the school made a financial decision that it was (significantly) cheaper to simply remove them than to bring them up to compliance. The optics of that are horrible, but nobody from either side in the case was actually seeking removal as the goal.

This is an example where the alternatives allowed under an otherwise good law incentivize a negative and unforeseen outcome. That said, the CC licensing of the content is a positive here, because private individuals can pick up where the university left off and not only keep the videos accessible but potentially fan-sub the videos, thus doing the action that was originally wanted by the people who brought the suit.
posted by mystyk at 10:12 AM on March 18 [66 favorites]


Mouse Army, I do web development for a public university and we use YouTube's autocaptions for some of our embedded media. I'd encourage you to at least test it; we've had better luck with the autocaptions than some of the commenters here. We definitely have to ask faculty to proofread the transcripts, but even if they're only 75% accurate, correcting the automated captions is a lot faster than having our closed captioning person do it. (His rule of thumb is that it takes him about two hours of work per half hour of recorded media.) That said, a lot of our videos involve a professor sitting in her office talking directly to her computer mic; I imagine speech recognition is a lot harder in a crowded lecture hall.
posted by xylothek at 10:14 AM on March 18 [6 favorites]


> The case was from people with disabilities who wanted to use the videos to learn (via open course-ware, not as registered students) but needed the videos to be brought up to ADA compliance in order for them to do so due to hearing impairment.

It seems unlikely that videos of this nature can be brought up to ADA compliance within the scope of a public school media budget, especially for the visually impaired.

I am unaware of any of these videos with detailed transcripts of the slides the presenter uses, for example, and that seems like something where we are a long, long was from automating it.

I guess this is the end of open courses from public universities then?
posted by durandal at 10:20 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


I understand why people are upset the videos were removed, but to me this looks like the ADA working as intended and is a good thing: "If it's too expensive for a public institution to make X accessible, then it's too expensive for it to do X." This will mean that there is content on the margin that won't be made public because of accessibility issues, but the idea of the ADA is to socialize that "harm" instead of allowing it to be borne by one small group.
posted by anifinder at 10:21 AM on March 18 [32 favorites]


I also do this professionally and have been warning instructors for years that if they don't caption their videos, the University could get sued and it's not really a matter of if but when. I've produced a lot of resources and documentation to allow instructors to do this for themselves using various tools for various circumstances (it's hard to write this stuff in a way that doesn't scare people off because there are so many if/then considerations). We tell people that the most important factor in their videos actually isn't video but audio and we can rent them better mics or they can come to our studio and use our professional equipment. We also tell people to please use a script if at all possible (like obviously if it's a live lecture that isn't possible but those are actually a minority of instructional videos produced) because it makes for a better video all around and also YouTube can turn that script into accurate captions in a couple minutes (works way better than speech to text). The general response to all of our efforts to make these processes easier for people has been a resounding "meh why bother." Like, if anyone at any point ever called me and asked whether I could help them find the best process for captioning their video, I'd get up on my desk and dance a jig and then bend over backwards to make sure they had all the right tools and knowledge to make it as easy as possible. No one has ever called.

Our enterprise video production and hosting service just got a YouTube-like speech to text captioning option which I'm hoping ups compliance. I've used it to caption my own videos and it's about 80% accurate for me using a good mic and I have to spend 15-20 minutes cleaning it up (the most annoying part is the lack of capitalization and punctuation, actually).
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:33 AM on March 18 [50 favorites]


As Cory Doctorow explains, "the fate of the videos is sad, but it feels like it's also a quirk of history, as the judgment arrived just as it seems likely that videos like these could be subtitled and even translated by software using machine learning." Right now, closed-captioning is an expensive and labor-intensive process, but it will probably be automated in the near future, making it possible for institutions to share more accessible content.

Phew! For a second there it looked like we were going to have to insist that giant institutions pay wages to actual people employed to provide something of value.
posted by Mike Smith at 10:36 AM on March 18 [36 favorites]


What is "too expensive"? What if wheelchair ramps were "too expensive"? Would they just say "screw you, wheelchair users"? What is the budget for the football team?
posted by AFABulous at 10:45 AM on March 18 [24 favorites]


I do screencasts and video tutorials for a state university. My captioning solution is to upload my video to YouTube, let it auto-generate the captions (usually about 75% accurate), then I download the caption file (which includes timecode), fix the errors and re-upload. Couldn't do my job without YT's help.
posted by porn in the woods at 10:52 AM on March 18 [18 favorites]


We tell people that the most important factor in their videos actually isn't video but audio and we can rent them better mics or they can come to our studio and use our professional equipment.

Yeah, I think that was the issue with the one example I mentioned - they were just winging it, with a clip-on mic or something, and getting kind of sub-par results.

This is too bad. UC Berkeley was way out in front of the iTunes U thing,along with MIT and some others, putting lots of great content out for free. They are probably dealing with budget cuts like other State universities, and I don't doubt them at all that they just can't afford to keep this content public according to the ADA needs, and must retreat to limiting their audience to enrolled students now.
posted by thelonius at 10:54 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Paying TAs to spend a couple hours each captioning 20,000 videos would cost what? A million? Maybe two? Out of a budget of billions. I wonder how much they spent on lawyers for this case...
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:20 AM on March 18 [5 favorites]


What is "too expensive"? What if wheelchair ramps were "too expensive"? Would they just say "screw you, wheelchair users"? What is the budget for the football team?

I don't think the cause of accessibility is necessarily helped by hand-waving its costs away.

Here is an example of "too expensive":

Any disabled person in a big city will have noticed how much of their transit system is not accessible. How can this be, under the ADA? Well, the ADA requires new construction in a public transit system to be accessible. It also requires that if significant replacements or renovations are carried out, at the time of the replacements or renovations the element of the system being upgraded should also be made accessible. Additionally, certain "key stations" were required to be made accessible. But it didn't require at the time of passage that every single element of every single system be brought into compliance.

Public transit is indisputably essential to the ability of disabled people in cities to just live their everyday lives. And the way that the various transit systems have supposedly fulfilled their responsibilities under the ADA is, generally speaking, shamefully inadequate. It's a mess, a big stupid mess. I worked on a case where I couldn't believe the transit authority's lawyers even had the gall to hold their heads up in court and make the argument they did.

But the ADA was not wrong that no city public transit system of any size could possibly afford to bring all of its systems into compliance within any even medium-term time frame, to say nothing of the massive displacement of all the other users of the system that would result. I probably would have created a different framework for implementation, but a law that didn't recognize just how great the costs can be of imposing comprehensive new standards on ancient, complex, fixed systems would have failed even more miserably.

In this case, I don't know what the costs would have been of providing captioning. Almost as important, I don't know how many of those costs could have been avoided if they'd thought about accessibility from the beginning. The defendants always exaggerate. But the result--which would have been nobody having access to these lectures if a private party hadn't stepped in--is not desirable for anyone, and it's shitty optics for the cause, too.

People are lazy and greedy and mean and so the default is always going to be "too much trouble, too expensive." The problem is, sometimes it happens to be true.
posted by praemunire at 11:27 AM on March 18 [32 favorites]


What is “too expensive”? What if wheelchair ramps were "too expensive"? Would they just say “screw you, wheelchair users”? What is the budget for the football team?

There’s a difference, of course, between the amount of money required to make wheelchair ramps and the amount of money required to caption videos. So “too expensive”, perhaps, in the sense that there wasn’t ever money allocated for it and at present that money doesn’t exist or belongs to other people?

Of course, if a building doesn’t have a wheelchair ramp the right response shouldn’t be to demolish the building.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:30 AM on March 18 [7 favorites]


But we might be on the verge off AI doing a much better job of transcribing video - via lip reading, not speech recognition.

While a cool result, IIRC this was on a fixed grammar recognition task, not an open-ended task. This means that the recognition system was given strong prior knowledge of which phrases are allowable. Audio-based speech recognition has been able to perform at or near human level on fixed-grammar tasks for a long time, and would have, unsurprisingly, crushed this task. It's the open-ended, multi-domain recognition where these systems fall down. In other words, we're not very close to being able to accurately transcribe across the many disparate domains that academic lectures would require.
posted by sloafmaster at 11:35 AM on March 18 [5 favorites]


In my experience, the majority of instructional videos don't really require professional captioning services. Some do. Very long live lectures with poor audio are a bitch and there should be money in the budget to pay someone to deal with those and there usually isn't. That needs to be rectified and it pisses me off that this is often an unfunded mandate. But there are innumerable examples of videos that could have been easily captioned with maybe 30 minutes extra work on the part of the instructor (or their TA or work study) if someone had at any point had the need to caption on their radar.
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:49 AM on March 18 [5 favorites]


There was a recent Reply All episode about this.

More Doctorow on EME - The World Wide Web Consortium at a Crossroads: Arms-Dealers or Standards-Setters?:

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has a hard decision to make: a coalition including the world's top research institutions; organizations supporting blind users on three continents; security firms; blockchain startups; browser vendors and user rights groups have asked it not to hand control over web video to some of the biggest companies in the world. For their part, those multinational companies have asked the W3C to hand them a legal weapon they can use to shut down any use of online video they don't like, even lawful fair use.

Is the W3C in the business of protecting the open web and its users, or is it an arms-dealer supplying multinational companies with the materiel they need to rule the web? We're about to find out.

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:52 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


Let's be real clear: non-specialist transcription (e.g. not requiring medical terminology accreditation) goes from $30 to $50 per audio hour. Even assuming $50 per audio hour, and assuming these lectures are typically an hour, this means the whole set of videos could be transcribed for about $1M USD.

Even if then taking those transcriptions and importing them would be vastly expensive, fine, multiply that cost by 5. $5M USD. That sounds like a lot, but the University of California's budget for 2016 was $28.5B USD.

Captioning these videos (a one-time effort) would require (even with this super-conservative estimate) 0.0175% of UC's yearly budget.
posted by tocts at 11:56 AM on March 18 [25 favorites]


Of course, if a building doesn’t have a wheelchair ramp the right response shouldn’t be to demolish the building.

But also, if a student in a wheelchair isn't able to attend a class held in that building, the right response isn't to tell them, "too bad, I guess you just can't take this class."

Students are increasingly expected to make use of online resources like videos, and it's just as much as an accessibility issue as wheelchair access. People are being shut out of these courses. And that will continue to happen as long as the accessibility of online materials is considered an "extra" that you consider if you have the budget, instead of a necessity.

It's a shame the videos were removed. And I understand the comments about the expense being an issue, because I'm a graduate student who has taught courses and I know how tight funding can be. But really, I don't know how things are supposed to change unless people challenge the status quo, and use the legal tools at their disposal to make institutions fulfill their responsibilities to provide access to everyone. It's not something universities seem like they'll just magically do on their own.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:01 PM on March 18 [23 favorites]


What if, and I realize this is a crazy position verging on socialism, the government offered grants specifically to offset these costs. Making whoever happens to be last in line bear 100% of the costs of accessibility is going to invariably result in perverse outcomes like this.
posted by Pyry at 12:18 PM on March 18 [11 favorites]


AFABulous: "What is the budget for the football team?"

My wife ended up travelling out of state in her final year of her masters because her school cancelled football halfway through her sports medicine masters because it was the cheapest way to come into compliance with Title IX spending requirements.
posted by Mitheral at 1:04 PM on March 18 [4 favorites]


Captioning these videos (a one-time effort) would require (even with this super-conservative estimate) 0.0175% of UC's yearly budget

You can't just throw numbers out like that. The UC system is constantly fighting budget issues. Unless you're involved in the administration of California's university system (which has multiple campuses with hundreds of thousands of students), you really have no idea what the university system has to pay for. "Oh sure, $5M is easy for them to afford!" Like, oh, why don't you let them know that?

Talking about ADA and access ramps isn't a great analogy for this, because the school already has assistive services for disabled students. The school pays for people to take notes, to transcribe course content, and more. It's not like the administration said "well, deaf and blind students will just have to suffer," while clutching a big bag of money and humming "Fight for California" to themselves.

I'm often opposed to decisions by the administration, and I'm often appalled by their invocation of budgetary problems as an excuse (ask the Black Student Union how they feel about the offer of $20,000 to build a black student center, when they were initially promised $500,000 for it). But the school's priorities are and should be the student body first and foremost. I would love it if Berkeley were a model of open education, but I don't want them spending $5M on captioning videos for the public while students in the BSU continue to fight for funding. Yeah, removing the videos looks bad, but I'm way less concerned about optics than I am about the actual needs of the student body.

Plus with the open licensing on these videos, they can still be captioned.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:06 PM on March 18 [33 favorites]


I don't understand why the university bears any responsibility to unregistered students. "Unregistered student" just means a member of the general public, right? The university's responsibility, and their funding, is to their registered students. Or am I mistaken? Is there public funding to provide content to the general public? If that's the case, I could understand this. Otherwise, if professors are just doing this on their own, it seems ridiculous to ban that.
posted by FiveSecondRule at 1:14 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


The football program is definitely draining too much of the budget. The majority of its funding comes from TV contracts and so on, but the school still pays too much. It's a crass commercialization of the Cal brand, and it's sucking up resources while everyone else deals with budget cuts. I think it's sort of getting better than it used to be, but it's still a problem.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:15 PM on March 18 [5 favorites]


Also, if the school eliminated the budget for football and spent it on captioning videos for the public, there would still be a budget crisis, because I think they pay less than $5M on football anyway. Someone can correct me on this, though.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:20 PM on March 18


You can't just throw numbers out like that.

Yes, I can, and I'll thank you for not dictating to me how I'm allowed to converse.

Unless you're involved in the administration of California's university system (which has multiple campuses with hundreds of thousands of students), you really have no idea what the university system has to pay for.

Oh hey, thanks for the condescension.

Look, I'm not saying the university system can't do this -- they're allowed to, and nobody's going to stop them. I'm just pointing out that the amount of money they chose to save by doing this is a paltry sum in the scope of their budget, and that they deserve every bit of bad press they're getting as a result.

And if you don't care about the optics, as you've said, why are you even commenting about it?
posted by tocts at 1:24 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


People won't take captioning seriously until it becomes too painful not to do it. Captioning is really important. I'm sorry if getting there is going to mean that some content becomes unavailable for a while, but if that's what it takes... it's the same as introducing new environmental laws or regulations - forcing people to take on the inconvenience and expense of change is never going to be painless or without a downside, but if you have to, you have to.

Incidentally, is there a path to using the YT speech transcription technology without creating a video? I work with audio a lot, and a good automated system would be lifechanging.
posted by Devonian at 1:25 PM on March 18 [13 favorites]


I'm just pointing out that the amount of money they chose to save by doing this is a paltry sum in the scope of their budget, and that they deserve every bit of bad press they're getting as a resu

Except my point is that you're wrong. I'm sorry to be snippy with you, but five million dollars is not a paltry sum for the university system. You do not seem to be aware of the budget crunch that has affected everyone on campus, and saying that the university deserves bad press because they could easily afford this is just flat out wrong.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:31 PM on March 18 [25 favorites]


And I'm snippy about it because the budget cuts are affecting lots of things and lots of people that I care about, so it's upsetting when people act as though this (a free program for the public) is just a simple line item (a tiny percentage of the budget overall) rather than acknowledging that there is an ongoing budget crisis that is affecting the student body.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:36 PM on March 18 [14 favorites]


You do not seem to be aware of the budget crunch that has affected everyone on campus

It's entirely possible to be both aware of the budget crunch, and nonetheless recognize that the amount of money required to make these accessible is not a particularly significant sum. People see "20,000 videos" and think "oh god, this would destroy the university to make up that money!", and that's frankly not true.

Budget crunch or no, the university is effectively telling disabled people it'd be too inconvenient to make this accessible. In this case, that is the university's right. It is not, however, their right to do this and also demand that people view it kindly.
posted by tocts at 1:58 PM on March 18 [4 favorites]


Citing UC's budget is disingenuous. Which university do you propose should lose some funding to meet Berkeley's projected ADA needs? It's Berkeley, right? They're the ones with their name plastered over it, and took on liability for open courseware in the first place, so it seems reasonable they should budget for this internally.

And they seem to have decided against it themselves. Seems reasonable: a year ago, they were facing being in the red 6 percent. When you're looking at budget cuts already, why aggravate the wound? Open courseware is really hard to justify -- it's all expense and no revenue, so it's not surprising OCW's detractors are using ADA as cover to end the program.

Finally, given that OCW is now open to ADA claims, I would not presume that simple transcription would be the end of expenses.
posted by pwnguin at 2:00 PM on March 18 [8 favorites]


Also, even if UC Berkeley can afford this, what about any smaller school that wants to do the same thing? Or, even if the 101 classes get transcribed, what about the specialized graduate seminars? They both have a smaller audience and (likely) require more specialized transcribers. Even if UCB could and should set aside a budget, there is still going to be a triage effect here where none existed previously.

I get the motive here, but I'm at a loss as to how this decision was going to improve things for everyone in the long run.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 2:35 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


Let's burn down a library because they don't offer brail books.
posted by Liquidwolf at 3:17 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


Via the Daily Californian:
Montez said that because of limited viewership of more than 20,000 course capture videos and a projected cost of at least $1 million for captioning, campus decided not to revamp the videos deemed inaccessible.

“On average, the older videos were watched for less than 8 minutes,” Montez said. “(It) doesn’t make sense to go back and do that, given the budget climate we are in. We had to weigh that as a factor.”
So, a rough estimate of $1 million is apparently a reasonable number, and doesn't seem like a lot on UC scale. But if viewership is really that low, I can totally understand deciding not to make that investment to keep them online. Twenty thousand videos of online academic content is a wonderful potential resource for the community, but if the community doesn't actually use it, then I can see deciding to spend that money on other things for their students.
posted by fencerjimmy at 3:19 PM on March 18 [14 favorites]


To be clear. The plaintiffs in this case ARE NOT students at the University. They are getting a free lunch and then complaining that they can't eat the mayonnaise or the egg salad because they are allergic to eggs. If you don't want the free thing, you don't have to take the free thing! Why ruin it for everybody else?
posted by Megafly at 3:37 PM on March 18 [9 favorites]


Last year Berkeley was tasked with closing a $150 million deficit, in the face of dwindling state support. If you think that's a travesty for the nation's premier public university then I'm with you, but I think it's pretty naive to say that they can obviously afford an extra $1 million in that context, particularly without a reasonable plan about what would be cut in order to pay for it.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:45 PM on March 18 [19 favorites]


Let's burn down a library because they don't offer brail books.

The other outcome of this attitude is that libraries never offer braille books because they are expensive and only cater to a small part of the population, and people with low or no vision end up paying for library services they can never use.

The point of this kind of compliance requirement is to force institutions into changing their practices so their content is accessible by default. If Berkley now makes it standard practice to caption their lectures as they go, they won't be facing this problem again in future. Or they can instead release the transcripts. The real fix here is a change in process and culture. Much like how urban planners had to change standard design elements to standardise curb cuts, tactile markers, audible signals at pedestrian crossings...etc.

This still leaves the absurd outcome that they can't publish older content that would be prohibitively expensive to caption because of the sheer amount of it.

I've seen this happen in other contexts, including government open data programs - lots of agencies don't publish massive troves of old data assets because they only exist in paper form. They could scan them and publish them as PDF. But they don't, because right now Optical Character Recognition is not very good - much worse than auto captioning - and they don't want to spend the money to make the documents accessible (either by fixing the crappy OCR or by entirely retyping the documents and releasing them in machine readable formats). So they don't publish them at all because they can't meet the accessiblity requirements.

However, with all new data assets, reports, and documents - they have been required to change their processes so those documents are published in accessible formats from the beginning. The cost of that process change is virtually neglible. But specifically because of the complance obligation and the resulting demand, efficient ways to make new documents accessible have been developed. Which is the whole point of rules like this. They do actually work in the long run to make things more accessible.

They still can't publish the old stuff, which is a poor outcome. The obvious fix, of course, is for legislators to provide an exemption for old content before a specific time, possibly with a requirement to provide accessible versions of that content on demand. Such an exemption didn't apply in this case, and the judge had no ability to impose one.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:47 PM on March 18 [18 favorites]


So disabled people can't complain that a free thing is not made available to them but fully able people are free to cry all day over a free thing they have no rights to being taken away? Nope.

And for praemunire's transit system analogy: I am confident that nobody is going to require accessibility on videos recorded before the ADA existed, only on new material. Which happens to include every video, so the analogy is a great way to demonstrate that yes, the university was required to make them accessible just like a transit system is required to make new construction accessible.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 3:47 PM on March 18 [9 favorites]


So disabled people can't complain that a free thing is not made available to them but fully able people are free to cry all day over a free thing they have no rights to being taken away?

Disabled people can complaint about whatever they want to complain about, what seems shitty is filing a suit where this is was a possible result. Also many disabled people won't be able to access these lectures--there are many disabled people who can hear just fine. Indeed my guess is that this result is a net loss for disabled as well as abled people in general--disabled people who can hear but can't physically get to a college campus will be harmed by this. Ditto for anyone who can't afford college. This was an unfortunate result.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 3:52 PM on March 18 [15 favorites]


The ADA has expanded accessibility in no small part because of its blunderbuss mechanic: if you can't make it accessible, you can't make it, even if any obvious cost-benefit math would suggest otherwise. The law deliberately says that lots of pain for a small number of people is worse than a little pain for a lot of people, even if the gross "quantity" of pain would seem to be in favor of non-accessible construction.
posted by MattD at 4:01 PM on March 18 [19 favorites]


This argument is that on the one hand this was a valuable resource which should not be taken away and on the other hand that disabled people who couldn't access it should just suck it up. I don't think that's a coherent position. (And of course you are ignoring that the videos are still available and have even been made more accessible).
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:02 PM on March 18 [5 favorites]


Misantropic's disability a vs. disability b analysis is interesting, though. Might have worked out differently if there were significant interventions by mobility disability rights activists on the other side of the lawsuit.
posted by MattD at 4:03 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


They are getting a free lunch and then complaining that they can't eat the mayonnaise or the egg salad because they are allergic to eggs

As a Berkeley student I do want to strongly reject this framing. I think the plaintiffs were right to file the ADA claim if there was an issue of access. The outcome of it is not great, but I am willing to defend Berkeley's decision to pull the content because there is simply no money to bring that content up to compliance. But I also want people with disabilities to be able to petition for access to this kind of material, and I don't think it's fair to characterize them as people who simply couldn't appreciate their free lunch.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 4:10 PM on March 18 [13 favorites]


viki.com is a volunteer video captioning site. In that case, for asian TV dramas, but the web app to match volunteers to episodes, provide group communication tools, provide web-based captioning tools, and host the captioned videos is a solved problem. If these videos are CC licensed, maybe someone could build the same kind of thing.
posted by ctmf at 4:17 PM on March 18


In cas you're not aware, the reason all Netflix media has captions is because the National Association of the Deaf sued them and won. Apple started captioning iTunes content soon after. There are also FCC regulations about what must be captioned online (tl;dr if it was shown on TV with captions, it has to also be captioned online).
posted by AFABulous at 4:23 PM on March 18 [33 favorites]


The ADA has expanded accessibility in no small part because of its blunderbuss mechanic: if you can't make it accessible, you can't make it, even if any obvious cost-benefit math would suggest otherwise.

It would at least appear from my layperson's perspective that this is not quite the case. Rather, materials are made and when specific accommodations are needed, only then does the captioning team and such spring into action. For the 80 percent or whatever of courses where no accommodations are needed, you've saved some cash. And as long as the accommodation rate is low (I'm pessimistically guessing lower than the national average), it's easy enough to amortize that across the entire student body without anyone flinching.

With the Berkely ruling, the definition of student appears to have become 'everybody' and the scope of materials appears to be 'since it's all free, I'll have one of everything please'. Which is why the Youtube material is being put behind a CAS login page. If you're a UC-B student, I'm assuming you can request accommodation and get access, but it'd be a known, smaller quantity.
posted by pwnguin at 4:49 PM on March 18


Let's burn down a library because they don't offer brail books.

I'll take burning down one library if the rest get the message and start offering braille books.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:51 PM on March 18 [5 favorites]


materials are made and when specific accommodations are needed,only then does the captioning team and such spring into action

That's not really what the law says, even when it comes to materials used in for-credit closed courses.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:59 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


I'm still baffled by the question of how the disabled plaintiffs had standing to sue the University. Berkeley is a public institution, sure, but a random person sitting in on a lecture course as a member of the public couldn't reasonably expect the services (transcription etc.) that Berkeley provides to its disabled enrolled students.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 5:22 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Due to the internet rumor mill, I am something like three degrees of separation from someone at Berkeley who is part of their video/instructional group or team or whatever, and everyone was pretty gutted at the way this turned out. No one viewed it as "well, sucks to be disabled, I guess - now NO ONE can have the videos".

As far as "what's the budget for the football team": if you are not part of the budget process at a university, you may not realize how very, very little the government and other funders like providing unrestricted funds that the university can spend on any old need. It's all "here's money for a science building", "here's money for an entirely new set of televisions", etc. Which means that upkeep and ordinary, boring needs are perpetually short changed. Which is why, at public universities, you'll often see extremely deteriorated public amenities - walkways, bathrooms, etc - cheek by jowl with very fancy new buildings.

Ongoing expenses and maintenance are especially hard to fund - everyone wants to build a building or buy an electron microscope, no one wants to fix a building or fund service contracts for equipment. You can't put a big plaque that says Olin Foundation on a paint job or a roof repair or an administrative assistant the way you can a building.

It does not surprise me in the slightest that there was no money for an ongoing, low-glamor task that is about equity.

The best thing to do in the gay space communist future is to guarantee that public universities have ample operating funds and broad discretion to spend them. (I mean, that's not actually communism, but you get what I mean.)
posted by Frowner at 6:24 PM on March 18 [34 favorites]


If you're a UC-B student, I'm assuming you can request accommodation and get access, but it'd be a known, smaller quantity.

Yes, that is the case. Berkeley offers accommodations to meet the needs of disabled students on a per-student basis (speaking as a disabled student at Berkeley). For example, the university pays people to take notes for students who are incapable of taking notes themselves, but they won't have a paid note-taker in a classroom unless it's needed. I know that for Deaf students they offer sign language accommodation, captioning, assistive listening, and other services, but I can't personally speak to how well they're implemented.

And on preview, Frowner nailed it, and I want to echo their call for a glorious gay space communist future where public universities actually get the funds they need.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 6:28 PM on March 18 [7 favorites]


If you're a UC-B student, I'm assuming you can request accommodation and get access, but it'd be a known, smaller quantity.

Wait, I'm sorry, I misread you. I don't know how it'll work with these specific videos.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 6:41 PM on March 18


Ongoing expenses and maintenance are especially hard to fund - everyone wants to build a building or buy an electron microscope, no one wants to fix a building or fund service contracts for equipment

This is about to get even worse, as much of that kind of maintenence is funded via grant overhead.
posted by thelonius at 7:17 PM on March 18 [5 favorites]


On the narrow budgetary issue, I think the relevant comparison isn't to total budget for all ten campuses but something closer to change in cost per video uploaded. Starting up an interesting but non-critical project that doesn't take much beyond "people on staff anyway" can be a skunkworks type thing where there's no damage to anyone's career if it fails so people try it. Asking for even a few hundred thousand can quickly make a lot of higher ups go into "prove to me it's worth the benefit" mode. At least in my non-academic experience.

Having typed that, perhaps this is perhaps not a horrible turn of events? They didn't do it at the beginning, which means they could get it going when otherwise it might not have started. The outcome of the lawsuit is unpleasant enough that--now that these courses have proven value the university finds money to bring them into compliance. Things often work out but only in very messy ways in this country.

I am also a bit surprised that non-UC students could sue in this situation. Though it does benefit all Californians so they're the constituency too I suppose.

Also curious how much they spent on lawyers, though that may have been necessary as well to get past this phase.
posted by mark k at 7:45 PM on March 18


Frowner is right on here about the way universities allocate money. It can be simultaneously true that a university has no money for large scale captioning and that it has a lot of money for football. It's not the same money. And at a large university with many different schools you will have some with more money than they know what to do with (medicine, engineering, computer science, business) and some where just getting $100 to put on a reception for a guest speaker is a major coup (humanities, arts & letters, social sciences). I work with school of medicine professors whose solution to every technical problem is "throw money at it and keeping throwing until it's solved and I don't have to think about it any more" and I work with humanities professors where any solution I suggest to them must be 100% free because they have the budget of a high school math department. I go to conferences where I see all kinds of new cool products...which are pointless for me to know anything about because the majority of my clients cannot pay one red cent for anything. There should be way more conference sessions about shit you can kluge together for free. (Which, by the way, is the category that "use YouTube to caption" falls into. We don't host our videos on YouTube, but we sure as hell tell people to temporarily upload their video there, download the captions, then delete the video.)

Also I am fairly certain this is not the first time open content has been dinged for lack of accessible content. I think a MOOC was sued a couple years ago. *googles* Yep, Harvard and MIT.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:09 PM on March 18 [11 favorites]


Soren could you kindly check your link?

Edit: Ah, this looks like the intended target.

posted by mark k at 8:21 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Well, thank goodness LBRY stepped up and made them accessible to all!

Hmmm... Wait... Hold on...

"Until LBRY launches to the public in April, the videos are only accessible to technical users via the command line."

What?

[click][click][read][click]...

After installing their software... Run the Daemon? Really... Okay fine... Then...

"While running, the daemon will provide a JSON-RPC interface on localhost. We'll learn how to interact with that next."

Oh, FFS.
posted by el io at 9:59 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


From lbry.io's documentation:
LBC is a cryptographic blockchain token used to secure and administer LBRY's shared, distributed catalog. The future is weird.
posted by Pyry at 10:47 PM on March 18


Shame. There's no need to wait for automated transcription software to get up to speed. The transcription process could be crowd-sourced. Just run the videos through a Captcha-like interface.*

For example, viewers could be asked/required to transcribe or edit a random minute of audio once per video.

If the videos had enough traffic, they could be transcribed in relatively short order. And for free.

* I've heard Captcha relies on users to transcribe their photos of text, not software. The correct answer is thus generated by the consensus of other users, not Skynet.
posted by Davenhill at 2:15 AM on March 19


Take that, people with learning disabilities who rely on those videos!

This is stupid. Sure, the school could and should put subtitles on them, but the fact remains that the videos themselves are accessibility tools for people with disabilities.

Sue the suers.


With respect, as a person with a learning disability, I don't think that advocating persecuting (through frivolous and vexatious lawsuits, because I can't see any cause of action, and the material is actually still available elsewhere, so there isn't even any damage) disabled people for pursuing their legal rights can be anything but toxic towards us as a group.

I'm sure you can appreciate my position. I'm a bit sad that this topic seems to be causing so much kneejerk rage, which is both upsetting in itself and a distraction from more productive discussion about how to actually make learning more accessible.

These are difficult issues. Absolutely no-one involved in this case wanted to reduce accessibility to anyone, but criticising the victims of systemic discrimination for the consequences of that discrimination isn't, I think, helpful.
posted by howfar at 2:54 AM on March 19 [12 favorites]


This seems so crowdsourceable.
posted by amtho at 6:38 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Crowdsourcing is only accepted if you're willing to accept that specific courses will be transcribed while others are going to be ignored.

People focus on what they like. LibriVox (another crowdsourced service) has probably ten versions of every Jane Austen novel, but one version (if you are very, very lucky) of most comparably obscure writer from the same era. A crowdsourced transcription service likely to transcribe every comp sci course available before it even touches, Asian-American Studies or some other relative liberal arts subject. (Which is sad, because it's the things that people are interested in that will be easiest to find elsewhere. The marginal utility to someone who is interested in a subject of yet another intro to xyz lecture is pretty low relative to even a pretty poor audio version of a graduate seminar.)

"Berkeley's liberal arts departments don't have courses available online" is going to be its own drama.

And, again, this is going to have a chilling effect on any small school that wishes to do the same thing. There are history courses taught by one of the best professors at my tiny liberal arts college that I have regretted not being able to take a decade ago. I doubt my school will ever have the budget to afford these sorts of services, so I suppose a video of those courses will never appear online.

Again, I am at a loss as to how any of the lawyers involved in this case expected anything else to occur. Anyone familiar with university finances shouldn't be surprised by this. I just wonder if it will also suppress some of the projects to scan rare book collections and similar projects.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 7:28 AM on March 19


Also curious how much they spent on lawyers, though that may have been necessary as well to get past this phase.

There's been a lot of conversation about how cash-strapped the UC system is, but if we find out they spent $2m in lawyers' fees to avoid $1m in transcription work, that argument goes right out the window.
posted by thecjm at 7:43 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised that Berkeley doesn't do this because I know Irvine does, at least for their business school lectures. I've been doing caption work for Rev (thanks to an ask mefi answer I might add) and have seen loads of universities uploading lectures (some from the late 90s too) from art history to fluid dynamics to be captioned. Audio quality doesn't even need to be that amazing since there are loads of free equalizers out there to help you make it clear enough to caption. I'd say having some knowledge about the topic will make the job go easier but really, you only need to spell things right for the captions to work. It's not like you need to understand the topic.
posted by astapasta24 at 8:11 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


I don't think anybody has addressed the elephant in the room, but: Videotaped lectures are terrible.

Outside of a traditional classroom environment, people don't tend to learn well by watching a videotape of somebody else's traditional classroom environment. (This is reflected by the next-to-zero viewership numbers on many of these videos). Videos can be great supplemental content in an online-learning environment, but more often than not, I see them used as the primary means of instruction, which is absolutely tedious and ineffective.

As far as online courseware goes, videotaped lectures are a bare-minimum step above providing nothing at all. It's the cheapest, laziest way to claim for a university to claim that it's making an effort to provide free/online learning materials. Throw a cheap camera in the back of the room, put it on a timer, and set the whole thing on autopilot.

If a university is unable/unwilling to provide lecture notes or transcripts, how many other corners have they cut? Are they actually committed to providing a usable and valuable experience to the users of their online platform?

This discussion has also overlooked the concept of universal design, which is based around the observation that things like wheelchair ramps end up being useful to lots of people who are not necessarily confined to a wheelchair, and ultimately provide far more utility/benefit than was anticipated or intended. It's not difficult to see how lecture notes and transcripts can provide a similar value to students who don't have any hearing impairments.

We don't need more videos of lecture halls. We need better written content in the public domain. Apart from Wikipedia, the amount of freely-available written educational content has actually been on a steady decline. The proliferation of videotaped lectures has been praised by many as a remedy to this issue, but I personally find it lacking and half-assed.

Text also happens to be easier/faster for most humans to consume, and is far easier to distribute, archive, aggregate, and adapt. With little effort, text can be collaboratively improved, and fine-tuned, resulting in a product that is vastly superior to an unedited videotape of a lecture hall.

The specifics of this lawsuit are shitty, but I hope that this can provide the push needed for universities and professors to actually take online learning seriously, produce more high-quality written OER, and consider the other ways that we can turn online learning into an actually-valuable experience for most people.

The ADA made it illegal to half-ass certain kinds of architecture, setting minimum standards that now seem obvious in hindsight. While the number of wheelchair-bound users remains small, the new requirements caused us to rethink the designs of our buildings, resulting in changes that have even provided substantial improvements to able-bodied Americans. We're long overdue for applying that same kind of thinking to education.
posted by schmod at 9:26 AM on March 19 [15 favorites]


Liquidwolf: Let's burn down a library because they don't offer brail books.

Straw men typically burn better.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:59 AM on March 19 [11 favorites]


Throw a cheap camera in the back of the room, put it on a timer, and set the whole thing on autopilot

As far as I can recall, most of the lectures weren't even videos from the back of the room. It would just be audio from the professor's microphone with whatever slide was on the projector at the time. Even by the low standards of online course videos, Berkeley's videos sucked, and I say that as someone who loves UC Berkeley. I've only had one class that videotaped the lectures, and they were so bad they were unusable.

The thing is, I don't think any of these courses were ever designed to be online courses in the first place. I'm embarrassed that Berkeley ever advertised them as such.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:40 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


Crowdsourcing is only accepted if you're willing to accept that specific courses will be transcribed while others are going to be ignored.

It could be done in a way such that that's not so much an issue. Think "volunteer here, what's your knowledge, here's some spelling words, here's your pre-selected 5-minute chunk, let's compare it to several people's 5-minute chunks" or "correct the spelling on this list of words for this lecture" or what have you.
posted by amtho at 3:31 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


If you're thinking of relying on or engaging with lbry.io, be aware that a librarian on twitter pointed out their 100% male team and advisory board and things then went very wrong [1] [2].
posted by Wordshore at 3:54 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


Are you volunteering, then? And, more importantly, are you volunteering to help set this up?
posted by steady-state strawberry at 6:38 PM on March 20


Is that addressed to Wordshore? It seems like an aggressive non sequiter if so.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:42 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


My point is, crowdsourcing 'solutions' are either going to be very selective or they're going to require huge amounts of effort to design something that's going to cover everything equally and yet retain people's interest.

Handwaving solutions is fantastic -- all we need is $1 million! All we need is a group of dedicated people willing to transcribe lectures! In practice, it's not that easy.

I'm not impressed by this lawsuit. I've said it repeatedly, but I'm really bewildered about what the lawyers *thought* the outcome here would be -- had they talked to someone who is even remotely familiar with university finances, they would have realized they'd be better off taking their money and putting it into a trust which pays people to transcribe lectures than trying to create a new category of funding for transcribing lectures which will be available to the general public for free. Saying you're devastated isn't really enough. What I would have liked to see was a game plan that the lawyers genuinely thought that UC Berkeley -- which, like every other university in the country, is currently being bled by a state government that couldn't give a shit about higher ed -- would buy into, in ways that weren't punitive against anyone.

(Also, again: this isn't just about UC Berkeley. This is about smaller schools which definitely won't have the funding available for transcriptions and about special seminars held at larger schools which could be available online but aren't going to be.)
posted by steady-state strawberry at 9:09 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


Putting the blame on lawyers seems odd. The mantra I was trained with is "lawyers advise and clients decide", and straying from that principle is, in my view, a very significant breach of legal ethics. No-one knows what advice was given, other than that there was a strong legal argument for the position that the materials were being presented in an unlawful manner.
posted by howfar at 5:31 PM on March 21


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