Does technology always help accessibility?
By Lydia Cronin
The 23rd September is International Day of Sign Languages, which falls in International Week of Deaf People.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 466 million people have disabling deafness and hearing loss. This represents 2.6% of the world’s population. There are 300 sign languages across the world. ‘Hard of hearing’, WHO states, refers to people with hearing loss ranging from mild to severe, and ‘deaf’ describes people who mostly have profound hearing loss, meaning very little or no hearing.
The world has not been created with the needs of deaf and hard of hearing people in mind, which has consequences.
Technology can make learning and access to content easier, or it can be inadvertently used in a way that creates barriers. For example, in 2020 Twitter rolled out voice-notes to a test group of users. However, it was launched without the option for captions, meaning some were excluded from being able to use this feature. When flagged as a breach of the Americans With Disabilities Act, Twitter stated that this was an early version of the feature. The problem here is that accessibility was seen as a late stage compliance add-on, rather than a necessary embedded factor right from this start.
How can we better use technology to support deaf and hard of hearing people?
- Consider direct video communication for customer services in sign language
- Ensure any videos are captioned and provide transcripts. Live automatic captions can be inaccurate and unpunctuated and can often be too fast to read. Captions should include any words spoken, identify who is speaking, and describe any sound effects that are important for understanding. Most video hosting platforms will allow you to upload a caption file.
- Provide text transcripts for audio-only content like podcasts to allow deaf or hard of hearing audiences to access this content.
- The key principle of International Week of Deaf People is ‘nothing about us, without us.’ Engage with the deaf and hard of hearing community to help build an accessible society with no communication barriers
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