Radar Hill Blog

Accessibility for Deaf Users: Why it’s worth it.

I (Shannon) am a programmer here at Radar Hill and I have been hard of hearing since, as far as I know, age 5. I was blessed to be taught how to read and speak before my inability to hear made it too difficult, so written text has always been my workaround for communicating with a hearing world.

Young woman with hearing aidAs the internet becomes more and more an extension of our lives, that method has gotten easier. My favourite TV shows have captions provided by enthusiastic volunteers, are hosted for free at addic7ed.com or opensubtitles.org, and all the major video players have the ability to use them. The brightest minds of our generation have provided videos of their best ideas at TED.com, all of them are captioned in multiple languages with transcriptions provided. Even web series, which aren’t legally required to provide captions for deaf users (as public TV shows are), often do. Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, for instance, has captions for every episode in the most recent season.

Best Practices For Reaching Deaf Users Online

  1. If you have a video, caption it. Here’s how. Once you have the subtitle file (it’s just text with time signatures added to each line), you can upload it to a Youtube video using these instructions.The software you need: Urusoft or VisualSubSync. If you have a subtitle file but it isn’t synchronized with the video’s audio track, use Subfix to correct it.

    An idea for businesses: produce captions for startup/Kickstarter promotional videos. It’s free if you want to take advantage of it.

  2. If you have audio, transcribe it. Make a caption file as you would for video, and publish it below the audio clip.
  3. If you have sound effect clips for some reason, describe them.
  4. If you have music, don’t worry about it. Many hard of hearing people enjoy music and if they do, have gone to great lengths to make sure they have whatever equipment they need for enjoying it. Loud headphones, good speakers, etc. However, ALWAYS include a transcription of the lyrics. People who are even mildly hard of hearing will have trouble making out the lyrics of songs. Anything other than loud, clear speech with no background noise is hard to understand when you have a hearing disability.

This goes beyond accessibility for deaf users. Computers are great and all, but in my experience, they are still lousy at watching videos, listening to audio, and indexing them in any meaningful way. Including subtitles and transcriptions makes your stuff indexable and searchable by search engines. It means that international translations are easy, if someone (often a volunteer!) feels inclined to make one. If you want to make money off your website, you definitely want that, whether it’s good for deaf users or not.

Otherwise, I hope you take away the message that accessibility isn’t about being nice or charitable — it’s about making good business decisions that also happen to benefit people who aren’t working with the exact same tools as you.

About Shannon Graham

Shannon does programming and product development at Radar Hill. She took up computer programming while avoiding macroeconomics homework in 2009, and found it to be more profitable. After teaching herself the basics of Python, she attended Computer Systems Tech at Camosun and decided to make a career of it. Outside of work she goes on long bicycle tours, builds bikes, and races motorcycles.
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