by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
George Leef’s latest Forbes column focuses on the latest problem created by the Americans With Disabilities Act.
One of the statutes that best demonstrates the truth that laws usually bring about a host of unintended consequences is the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the name of helping people who have disabilities, the law often imposes heavy costs on others, while simultaneously failing to do anything for its purported beneficiaries.
The ADA has spawned a hyper-aggressive enforcement bureaucracy that lives to find violations of the law, even if those violations exist purely in their own minds. A recent flap over free online college courses makes the point.
Colleges and universities do a lot of ridiculous and even harmful things, so when they do something that’s unquestionably good, we should offer our praise. An example is the way some schools have chosen to make their course material available worldwide and for free.
Among the universities that have taken that step is the University of California at Berkeley (UC). For several years, the university has been offering an array of its courses for free on iTunesU, YouTube, and edX. Here is UC’s website for its free online courses and there is much to choose from, including statistics, electronic interfaces, quantum mechanics, financial decisions, and essay writing.
Some poor kid in Mississippi or even Mongolia could get a terrific start on his or her education with nothing more than a computer and ambition, thanks to the availability of courses like those.
What is the problem? The problem is that these online courses don’t always perfectly satisfy the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits any form of “discrimination” against people who have a disability. Some people are deaf, therefore, if a course lacks captions so that spoken material can be read, it violates the ADA. And some people suffer from color blindness, so if a video doesn’t have enough color contrast, it could be difficult to learn from.
No, this isn’t a law school hypothetical. The U.S. Department of Justice keeps a vigilant eye out for any and all violations of the ADA and has spotted UC’s transgressions.