Hearing: Deafness and Hard-Of-Hearing
Auditory disabilities range from mild or moderate hearing impairments in one or both ears (hard of hearing), to substantial and uncorrectable impairment of hearing in both ears (deafness). Some people with auditory disabilities can hear sounds but sometimes not sufficiently to understand all speech, especially when there is background noise. This includes people using hearing aids or other approaches to improve the sound. Hearing loss increases with aging. Auditory disabilities affect about 3.2% of Canadians. They rely on website owners to provide captions and transcripts of audio. They also benefit from high quality audio, where the foreground speech is louder and clearer than any background noise. It is easy to assume that people with hearing and speech loss do not experience many challenges on the Web given it is mostly a visual medium. This is not the case. Video is an obvious challenge for people who are deaf and hard of hearing, who can not hear speech. To support people who cannot hear, videos should have Closed Captions, subtitles and/or transcripts:
- Closed Captions for the same language as the spoken audio.
- Subtitles for spoken audio translated into another language.
- Transcripts are a text version of the speech and non-speech audio information needed to understand the content.
- Sign language uses hand and arm movements, facial expressions, and body positions to convey meaning.
Audio content, such as videos with voices and sounds that do not have captions or transcripts, are completely inaccessible to anyone with significant hearing loss. Closed Captions must also be in sync with the audio of the video. This means the text for the Closed Captions appear at the same time as they are spoken. People who lip read may be following the content by both watching people speak as well as reading. If the captions are out of sync it is like hearing the audio track but one or two seconds behind the visual content. Some video platforms are increasingly providing automatic captioning functionality. This can be a great help in creating captions but currently not reliable for use by people with disabilities, especially when speakers have accents and for many languages with less support for speech recognition. The existence of captions alone is not always enough to make them usable. It is also important that Closed Captions / subtitles are easy to read. In other words they have good contrast, are a decent size and are set against a background so they don’t get lost in the video background that changes. Also, comprehending text may also be a challenge for people whose first language is sign language, as can functionality that relies on speech.
Media players also have a role to play. Buttons to switch Closed Captions on and off should be easy to find in the player controls. Ideally, they are grouped together with the Play/Pause, volume, rewind/forward wind and full screen buttons. Having the button hidden within settings makes it hard to find. Buttons to control the font size of Closed Captions are also very helpful. Some older users may start to rely on Closed Captions more and more and may appreciate slightly larger font sizes.
For people born deaf, their first language is sign language. As such, written text in closed captions or pages of written text may not be easy to read. Some people may find it easier to watch a video with sign language alternatives over closed captions. For pages that contain a lot of text good use of images, icons and color to reinforce meaning can be really helpful as long as they are not relied on alone. A good use of layout and structure (headings, lists, etc.) can also make content easier to understand.
- W3C Video: Captions
- YouTube: What Do People Get Wrong About Being Deaf?
- YouTube: Deaf Students – Looking to The Future (This video is silent)
- U.S. National Park Service Video: Seasons in Yosemite National Park with sign language and audio description
- Real-time Text (RTT), a call feature that assists deaf, hard of hearing, and other phone users with communication during voice calls, Ennica Jacob
- Best Hearing Health: The Ultimate Guide to Hearing Health, Stephanie Robinson