As more companies are becoming familiar with digital accessibility and what that means, there has been a lot of focus on visual impairments and how to improve a digital experience for people who may not see it. It is sometimes overlooked that people with hearing disabilities and the Deaf community face similar challenges.
Let’s start with understanding how to identify people with these hearing disabilities. You will sometimes see variations of terms related to deafness. Note the importance of the “big D” verse “little d” when speaking about the Deaf community.
In a BBC opinion column, Caroline O’Neill (Deaf since age 5) wrote, “To be 'deaf' (small d) is to fit into the medical definition of deafness as something to be cured and eradicated.” She uses colorful language to speak about this topic as a member of the Deaf community.
“Deaf - with a capital "D" (and occasionally with capital E, A, and F too) - is used to refer to people who are culturally Deaf. These people actively use British Sign Language; they see themselves as being culturally Deaf and part of the Deaf community,” explained O’Neill.
Taking pride in the visual language of signing is a trait of those who identify as Deaf; “big D.”
The following article covers everything you need to know about digital accessibility for your D/deaf and hard-of-hearing web visitors.
Video and Audio Content
Most websites use audio-visual purposefully to break up text walls and convey information more entertainingly. However, audio and video materials pose a challenge for anyone with hearing loss and members of the Deaf community.
Video content is visually accessible, but voices, sounds, and music will be hard to hear or lost entirely to anyone D/deaf or hard of hearing. If your video content can be watched and understood without the speech, you might still want to consider providing descriptors for the sounds. These descriptions are transcripts that include extra auditorial information. An example might be to describe the sound of the crickets or the crackle of wood burning in a video setting filmed near a campfire.
Any exclusively audio web content is indecipherable to D/deaf and hard-of-hearing people, so you’ll want to ensure that you provide accessible ways to access the material or that you offer the information in another way. For example, a visual guide alongside the audio material. This guide will allow the D/deaf community to view and read what other web visitors can hear.
Make sure you test your website or app to check all the places you’re using sound. It may seem obvious to you, but if you are not D/deaf, you might have overlooked something. For example, think about any videos, podcasts, audio footage clips, or music embedded into your site.
A good way of getting your head around how your site looks to your D/deaf and hard-of-hearing users is to go over it yourself with your device on mute. Note down where you struggled to understand anything or where the information was inaccessible. This is an excellent way of finding out where you need to improve accessibility or provide alternative options, such as a blog post paired with your podcast.
To anyone with a hearing disability, information delivered via sound is either difficult to understand or completely useless.
Closed Captions [CC] and Transcripts
Integrating videos from sites like YouTube is one of the easiest ways of making your site accessible to the D/deaf and hard-of-hearing. YouTube is one of the best audio-visual hosting sites for the D/deaf and hard-of-hearing, as it has excellent closed caption [CC] software built-in. Just check them for accuracy. Sometimes the spelling of a name or scientific terms is incorrect. As technology evolves and digital accessibility becomes more of a priority, even social media platforms are adding caption functionality.
You can also caption your videos or even write up transcripts for them, but this can be time-consuming. If you have a script for your videos, it’s easy to offer the script as a reference for D/deaf and hard-of-hearing users as an additional file to download and read while watching. Other video edits are choosing to overlay text onto their videos directly. This is a good option but still leaves out auditory cues and background noises that the D/deaf community will not hear for context.
Some functions like hangouts, Zoom, or live video are challenging to caption. You’ll have to rely on the software provider offering live or automated captioning for these functions. You can also purchase automated captioning software, but make sure it will integrate with everything you need.
However you choose to make your site more accessible, we have all the tips you need at Accessibility.com, from captioning, transcripts, and accessible Zoom meetings.