Is there any research/study/survey that tried to quantify the cost of making a MOOC universally accessible, as defined by the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (mirror)?

I am aware that the cost depends on several factors, such as the type of content the MOOC contains ( video / text / etc.).

The question is motivated by the lawsuits some educational firms received / feared to receive to due to lack of accessibility of the course materials:

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    Note that the incident that inspired this question isn't specifically about MOOCs but included much more general content, such as podcasts and videos of lectures. (This in no way affects the validity of the question.) Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 15:34
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    @DavidRicherby Thanks, good point, I'm also interested in the cost of making videos of lectures accessible. Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 15:36

1 Answer 1


The question asks for studies or research, and I don't know of any, but I do have some first-hand experience.

Meeting the Section 508* requirements for Web pages used in such a course is effectively without cost if one starts out to make such pages accessible. Retrofitting might cost as much as the original project, but the cost should be near zero for modern MOOCs.

Closed (or open) captions are very expensive. Unless done at a foreign sweatshop, cost is $5.00 to $15.00 per minute, so something like $12,000 as a minimum, up over $35,000, for a one-semester course. In other words, the captioning can cost more than the professor. That's at least part of why some institutions employ ASL interpreters for class sections with deaf students.

Edited to add: I worry about the quality of the content for captions of university-level courses produced offshore at cheap rates, but have no personal experience. I have experimented extensively with captioning through voice recognition for my own courses. It's getting much better, but still requires extensive manual editing. The $5-15 number given above could be reduced by using student labor, especially if the students are majors in the material being subtitled.

Captioning addresses the needs of the deaf. Making course materials available to the blind means being sure that everything that is shown is also described, either by the speaker who is presenting or in a manner that can be rendered through text-to-speech. The latter means being sure that there are good "alt" descriptions of images and that appropriate markup, e.g. MathML, is used for things like equations. In my own discipline, computing, that isn't onerous, and the costs sort-of disappear in the weeds of getting the course done. Things might be very different in a discipline like the visual arts.

*Section 508 is part of the Rehabilitation Act, not the ADA, but you still have to do it.

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    It's the Web stuff that's effectively free. The Web pages used in MOOCs have to be accessible, and one makes that happen by not doing things that would make pages inaccessible. There's more info here: section508.gov/content/build/website-accessibility-improvement (Captioning remains hideously expensive unless, as in my case, it comes out of the professor's hide, and I can caption only a small part of the material I'd like to make public.)
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 15:44
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    Now I feel I understand even less. Are you simply making the vacuous claim that, if you plan to do something from the start then it's not an extra cost so the extra cost is zero? Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 19:24
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    @DavidRicherby Nope, I claim that building accessible web pages costs no more than building pages that will not pass the accessibility tests, provided one plans to do so from the start and so avoids the traps that make pages inaccessible. Vacuous? I don't think so. Did you look at the link I posted earlier?
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 19:57
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    A page that doesn't follow unobtrusive javascript, or progressive enhancement/graceful degradation wasn't designed correctly from the start. If the page follows those concepts, compliance is nearly free as claimed.
    – user45909
    Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 1:41
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    @guifa So, who writes the script? That just moves the cost around, but doesn't eliminate it. I can probably count the number of professors who lecture from a script on the fingers of one thumb. (I work from a topic list so I don't skip material or get out of order.) "...you just go hitting a space bar..." No, I don't. The idea that you can effectively double a professor's workload, and with drudge work, is "free" is a concept up with which I will not put. The result of a law requiring that my work be universally accessible is that very little of it will be made public at all.
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 12:07

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