Minnesota Public Radio must make changes

by K. Burgess

People have the right to public information regardless of ability status. Recently I found that Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) does not agree with this statement. They have for decades been in flagrant disregard of the various laws that they are responsible for following.

You may be asking yourself, as I did, how this entity that broadcasts news stories and podcasts about disability issues and is supported by many disability allies and organizations could be so flippant about access?

If you go to the MPR website you will find audio recordings of podcasts and news programs, but no transcripts. You can search high and low for some means of requesting a transcript and what you will likely land on is the “contact us” button. This leads you to a form which has a dropdown box of options for topics. The best fit is “other” which allows you to enter text into a box about your request. Once you choose to send this form it goes into what seems to be a black hole in the Internet. The only response is the automated reply that states they got your message but not all messages receive an individual response.

And then you wait, because you think, this is important and this isn’t some general question like when are you going to play Beethoven’s 5th Symphony again, so it should be worthy of an individual response.

Well, I for one am tired of waiting and expect MPR and the other entities out there doing the same things to step up and make their content accessible to everyone. It is 2021 and these laws have been in place since before the Internet. Specifically, I am referring to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which requires entities receiving federal funds to comply with the statute. Not to mention the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and something called reasonable accommodations. MPR is not only in violation of the rehab act they also refuse to engage in the interactive process when a person with a disability requests a reasonable accommodation for something like a transcript.

Speaking as a person in the world of higher education, MPR is generally seen as a credible source. They offer news articles and other media on a wide variety of topics that are appealing. Well-meaning faculty include these articles and podcasts in their course materials or ask students to do research on a topic knowing that the student will likely end up using MPR as a resource and yet when students need accommodations, such as a transcript, they don’t exist. Nor can you find any reliable way to make a request.

There is an easy fix. There are actually at least a couple of options MPR and entities in similar situations have. 1) Post a transcript along with the podcast or other audio material. 2) Create a readily accessible spot on the website where a person can request a transcript and follow through on the requests that are made.

Option two isn’t ideal as it is not in full compliance with the ADA because you are not allowing the individual to access the information in the same time as someone who can listen to it, however, it is at least a baby step in the right direction.

MPR, stop denying access to the 11 million or more Americans that are deaf or hard of hearing. This doesn’t even consider those with other disabilities such as auditory processing disorders. Wake up MPR! We are living in 2021, in a pandemic, and people need access to high quality news and information. You could be that source if you would only comply with the law.

Editor’s note: Burgess reports that she is in contact with MPR and will keep Access Press updated on any changes.