How We Can Make the Online World More Accessible for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People

Fri Mar 17 2023

It's happened to most people at least once: you open a new web page in a public space, and suddenly, thanks to an embedded video set to auto-play, sound is blaring from your computer.

Depending on where you are, the above scenario might be a little embarrassing, but overall, probably not that big of a deal—you'd simply stop the video, perhaps make an awkward apology, and go on with your day.

But what if you were Deaf or Hard of Hearing, and didn't realize that the video had started to play?

Or, worse, what if you were invited to an important work meeting held over Zoom where captions weren't provided, or were terribly inaccurate?

The above are just a couple of examples of how the online world can feel like a minefield for people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. While we might assume that the amount of visual and written content on the Internet would make it a friendly space for Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals, that's often not the case, particularly considering the soaring popularity of hearing-centric media such as podcasts, or social media sites like TikTok.

Creating an inclusive online digital environment is very possible—however, it does require that we put some thought into how to make a website accessible for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Below are a few easy-to-implement strategies that can make a world of difference when it comes to Deaf accessibility:

Subtitles or Closed Captioning for Videos

Implementing subtitles or closed captions for video content and videoconferencing software is one of the most obvious steps we can take to use technology for Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals. This is even more true given the widespread use of video-sharing platforms and social media sites like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram.

It's also important to ensure that subtitles and closed captioning services are accurate and easy to find, that the words appear on the screen in a way that is easy for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people to read, and that they don't obscure the actual video or picture being shown. Aside from just transcribing dialogue, subtitles and closed captions should also include descriptions of non-spoken sounds (such as applause, thunder, etc.).

Transcripts for Audio-Only Content

One report estimated that as of April 2021, the cumulative number of existing podcasts surpassed 2 million shows, which contained a total of around 48 million podcast episodes. Those numbers represent countless hours of media and content that are inaccessible to Deaf and Hard of Hearing people without the help of a transcription service. According to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, any audio-only form of media should have an alternative that allows both readers and listeners to access the same information.

As with subtitles and closed captions, however, it's essential that transcripts be accurate in order for them to be effective. Often, using automatic transcription softwares can result in errors that are confusing and frustrating for consumers. To ensure fewer errors and more reliable transcripts, it's preferable for content creators to publish their scripts as a transcript.

Structured Content

Because Deaf and Hard of Hearing people are more likely to connect visually with online content, it's all the more important that the content they see is well-organized and easy to navigate. Being able to quickly skim an article or web page and discern whether or not it's worth spending more time on can be hugely helpful for people whose primary way of interacting with the world is through visual means.

Aside from the layout of a website, another important aspect of Deaf accessibility is the diction and style of your written content. For some people in the Deaf community, sign language is their first language, and their comfort level with written language may vary. Using concise, clear language can create a better experience for people in this situation.

Include Multiple Contact Methods

A "Contact" page that details how customers can connect with an organization is an essential component of any business website. However, contact information that is limited to a phone number can be a serious obstacle for Deaf or Hard of Hearing people. By including multiple different contact methods (such as email, web forms, or chat functions), businesses and organizations can ensure that they are providing avenues for Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals to reach out.

The mission of Sign-Speak is to partner with Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities in creating tools that will enhance interaction between Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and hearing individuals. Our innovative machine learning software is able to recognize sign language and translate it into the spoken word, thereby improving accessibility for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community in the workplace and beyond. For employers, Sign-Speak's assistive technology allows them to uphold the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and show their commitment to equity. If you or someone you know could benefit from using Sign-Speak, don't hesitate to contact us today!