The University of California, Berkeley, will cut off public access to tens of thousands of video lectures and podcasts in response to a U.S. Justice Department order that it make the educational content accessible to people with disabilities.
Today, the content is available to the public on YouTube, iTunes U and the university’s webcast.berkeley  site. On March 15, the university will begin removing the more than 20,000 audio and video files from those platforms -- a process that will take three to five months -- and require users sign in with University of California credentials to view or listen to them.
The university will continue to offer massive open online courses on edX and said it plans to create new public content that is accessible to listeners or viewers with disabilities.
Cathy Koshland, vice chancellor for undergraduate education, made the announcement in a March 1 statement .
“This move will also partially address recent findings by the Department of Justice, which suggests that the YouTube and iTunes U content meet higher accessibility standards as a condition of remaining publicly available,” Koshland said. “Finally, moving our content behind authentication allows us to better protect instructor intellectual property from ‘pirates’ who have reused content for personal profit without consent.”
The Justice Department, following an investigation, in August determined that the university was violating the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. The department reached that conclusion after receiving complaints from two employees of Gallaudet University, saying Berkeley’s free online educational content was inaccessible to blind and deaf people because of a lack of captions, screen reader compatibility and other issues.
Stacy Nowak, one of the complainants, referred comments to the Justice Department and the National Association of the Deaf. The NAD did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The department ordered the university to make the content accessible to people with disabilities. Berkeley, however, publicly floated  an alternative: removing everything from public view.
“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,” Koshland wrote in a Sept. 20 statement. “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.”
Now the university has settled on that option.
Koshland said that Berkeley has since 2015 piloted requiring university credentials to access recorded lecture content. That system has so far proved more effective at helping the university accommodate students and others at Berkeley with disabilities.
The Justice Department’s investigation did not look at how Berkeley serves students with disabilities, only the accessibility of content it offers to the public.