Web Accessibility for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing


The world wide web has opened a number of opportunities for disabled people. But for some, their disability poses a challenge in the use of the web. Increased awareness of the importance of web accessibility and legislation which equals web inaccessibility with discrimination have dramatically improved access for disabled people to most websites regardless of their disability. Blind people for instance can browse the web and “read” the text with the aid of screen readers, individuals with poor eyesight can use screen magnifiers but the deaf and hard of hearing remain largely ignored. It may be true that they easily access to online information for most of the time but as soon as they come across a video or audio form of information, they are typically discriminated.

Just like web accessibility for the blind and people with visual impairment, web accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing is relatively easy and inexpensive. The best solution at the moment is the use of closed captioning whenever a sound appears. It is the same technique that is used by televisions and displays text of the spoken information. Web implementation of closed captioning, however, does not necessarily involve captioning within the video or other form of audio material but a transcription which can be accessed with a click on a link. In order to facilitate the access to closed captioning or transcription of the spoken information, the link should be clear and located as near as possible to the video or audio material. Very helpful are also additional visual aids which help the user understand the audio material.

In addition to closed captioning and transcriptions, web accessibility for the hard of hearing and deaf, especially those who are deaf from birth can also be improved with the use of the sign language. Most people who are deaf understand the written language but many follow the sign language a lot easier than the written word. Unfortunately, implementation of the sign language is relatively expensive because it requires a sign interpreter.

Improving web accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing posses a challenge for websites displaying live streams as the currently available special software programmes which offer live stream closed captioning can be inaccurate. Websites which use lots of audio/video material from different authors such as YouTube for instance do not always provide closed captioning either. The popular video sharing website does offer closed captioning but only if the author of the video adds a captioning file. YouTube is currently testing an automatic closed captioning but it is hard to tell when it will be available to users. At the moment, the best way to communicate audio information to the deaf and hard of hearing when closed captioning is not possible is to enable them an option to use the telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD).