The Importance of Deaf Accessibility on the Internet
By Ed Carter
We often tend to think of the internet as a democratic, fair space, equally accessible to everyone. However, this vision is misleading in more ways than one, and one particular group that it ignores is people with disabilities. The ADA and web standards like WCAG have made conversations about web accessibility more common, but there is still much to be done, especially when it comes to less obvious disabilities like hearing impairments.
In this article, we will explore why online deaf accessibility matters, and what businesses and developers can do to make the internet a more deaf-friendly place.
Making the Internet Open to Everyone
Sites on the internet are not always designed with disabilities in mind, which makes them confusing and at times impossible to use for some people. This is one of the reasons why disabled people are overall less likely to use technology than those without a disability.
However, it is important that the internet be equally open to everyone. It is a source of jobs, information, and human connection. No one should be excluded from this, and it is up to those running websites and apps to ensure this doesn’t happen.
ADA Compliance and Lawsuits
Aside from the ethical implications of accessibility, businesses have a real, practical incentive to make their websites accessible. Last year saw thousands of lawsuits brought to companies for issues of web accessibility. This is because websites can fall under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which states that “places of public accommodation” must be accessible to all.
The Rise of Video and Audio
So far, we have covered why overall web accessibility is important. However, when companies try to address this, they will often focus on visual impairments, which are the more obvious obstacle to internet use. Hearing impairments, while affecting 48 million Americans, are often forgotten.
One reason this is important is due to the huge rise in the use of video on the internet in the past few years. Nowadays, 87 percent of online marketers use video content, and video is one of the most popular content strategies out there.
Meanwhile, online audio is also on the rise, thanks largely to the popularity of podcasts. Even more interestingly, people over 55 (the most likely to have a hearing impairment) show the greatest increase in podcast listening from 2018 to 2019 (33 to 40 percent).
What You Can Do
It is possible to take advantage of the above trends while still making your content accessible to people with hearing disabilities. The main areas you need to focus on are:
● Subtitles and Transcripts - The most important thing to remember is to always provide accurate subtitles and/or transcripts for any video or audio content on your website or social media. Automated subtitle services can do this quickly and effectively, and some services offer 12-hour turnaround for up to 30 minutes of video.
● Simple Content - For some deaf users, English is a second language. Keep written content simple and easy to understand, and use clear headings and formatting. Incidentally, this also helps with SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
● Autoplay - There are many reasons why your average user may hate autoplay (it’s loud, obnoxious, and forces higher data usage), but deaf people have a more specific problem: they can’t tell when it’s playing. This can be embarrassing for them in public places, not to mention inconvenient for the people around them. In order to keep everyone happy, avoid autoplay functions on your website altogether.
Everyone benefits from improved web accessibility. Companies can reach new customers, people with disabilities can reach more services and information, and the public at large benefit from a more diverse, interesting internet. If you are going to incorporate video or audio into your online strategy, make sure it can be enjoyed by everyone, including the hard of hearing. This will not only ensure you are ADA compliant, but it will guarantee that your content is able to reach as wide an audience as possible.