I'm enrolled in a graduate-level program from a major US university, and these courses are predominately online. Classes are held via web conference, and most content is online. (It's not a public MOOC, but rather it's part of a curriculum with full tuition being paid, and relatively small class sizes -- less than 20 people per section.)

As an older student (but not disabled, nor a senior citizen (yet)), I do have many of the associated age-related challenges (bad eyesight, hard of hearing, hand tremors). As a result, I do make use of various assistive technologies (screen reader, captions, mouse-free keyboard navigation).

I find the program content to be not very accessible. Though, I admit I'm not that familiar with the accessibility requirements of the ADA. (I've listed some of my issues, below.)

I have commented & complained to both the administrators & professors. Not being disabled per se, my complaints don't carry much weight. Also, one prof threatened to fail me if I kept complaining & kept having problems (typical response: "none of the other students have complained / are having problems"), so I really don't want to be the torchbearer for this campaign. However, I'd really like them to stop & think about the choices they are making, even if the changes are only realized after I finish the program. They continue to make new content & new changes that impede accessibility. As far as I can tell, they either have no guidelines for accessibility, or they just don't care (the institution does have a documented history of ignoring accessibility requirements.)

Is there a way one can either raise this issue with the University anonymously (to avoid repercussions), or otherwise report them so that they can start taking this issue seriously?

Examples: zero captions for videos; very tiny content (browser zoom to 1000% (10x) makes it barely legible for me, but makes navigation difficult); many slides are "images" rather than text and therefore can't zoom/copy/paste; classes via live video conf, but A/V quality is often poor (profs not provided high-quality equipment, simply using iphone or such); online content is delivered in a proprietary adobe client (not HTML5) with poor accessiblity features; editing files requires using mouse with browser & can't use external mouse-free editors; not cross-platform, requires windows/mac (linux unsupported).

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    You certainly need to talk to somebody about a professor threatening to fail you for requesting learning materials that you can actually use. Have you contacted your university's disability office? You don't classify your visual and motor problems as "a disability" but they have the same effect: they leave you unable to effectively study for reasons that have nothing to do with your intellectual capacity. Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 13:19
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    If "A/V quality is often poor", you might be able to rally up students from a usability perspective without having to stress the ADA angle. Same for "linux unsupported": universities are full of OSS enthusiasts; get them active. Working entirely from the ADA angle will not help you get particularly broad support: first, in the eyes of many, it is associated with governmental and lawyerly harrassment (it is hard to deny that it happens; just how much it disqualifies the whole concept is in the eye of the beholder, and you probably won't be able to convince the other side here), and second, ... Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 21:29
  • ... it just is a lot easier to dismiss concerns of discrimination when no one from the discriminated-against group is there to voice them (as you say, you are not actually disabled by formal standards, just finding the accommodations useful to you as well). Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 21:31
  • Taking to administration, they say "yeah, were working on it", but in the next breath "but there's nothing we can do about X" when bring up specifics. For example, the media delivery platform is outsourced (2U), and it's not something they can easily back out of. And 2U is developed on Adobe, so they can't add support for Linux without a rewrite or Adobe changing course & deciding to support Linux. It kind of seems hopeless without some huge top-down decision.
    – mal
    Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 3:35
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    For those interested in this topic in the future, University of Washington IT has put together this resource as a seemingly pro-active response as many other Universities have had formal complaints against them for violating the ADA: er.educause.edu/articles/2017/1/…
    – BrianH
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 18:52

1 Answer 1


The appropriate place to raise this would be through the Disabled Student Services at your university. Even though you're taking the course as a MOOC, the DSS office still has authority over the course (unless it's being run through a subsidiary or joint-venture similar to Ed-X) as well as the responsibility to make it accessible. C.F. Harvard and Ed-X accessibility settlement.

If DSS does not respond, then the next place to go would be the ADA Compliance Officer on campus. If the university is receiving federal funds, they should have someone designated as such (and this person might share multiple roles, such as the Title IX Compliance Officer, etc.).

If that fails, then the university ombudsperson.

If all university channels fail, then you contact your State office of civil rights or the Federal Office for Civil Rights (OCR). It's unknown whether the Federal OCR will be proactive and responsive during the current regime, but technically they are where the buck stops right before you go with a full blown ADA complaint.

Also, you might also pursue hiring private legal counsel, especially if you absolutely want to remain anonymous during the initial complaint phase. Ask your local disability center for independent living for referrals to local attorneys who take on ADA/504 complaints against universities (note this is very different from run of the mill ADA cases against private businesses) or consult with a national firm such as Disability Rights Advocates, CREEC Law, or DREDF, etc.

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    The civil servants in any federal government department are almost universally people dedicated to the mission of the department under some reasonable interpretation. It is very unlikely that they will try to be unhelpful. That being said, it is possible that the resources available to them will eventually dwindle to the extent they can no longer be helpful. If, due to lack of hiring, investigators end up being given three new cases to investigate every week, it may be a long time before yours would even get on their desk. These kinds of effects will, however, take years to show up. Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 18:00
  • Note: not a MOOC; just mostly online content. Class sizes are small, and full tuition is being paid.
    – mal
    Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 3:28
  • Thanks -- I'll try some of these options & see if they help.
    – mal
    Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 3:37

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