< A personal view to accessibility

Note: This is a re-post of an article when I was studying at university for a project which is not online anymore but this is still relevant today.

The left door is closed, the middle door is open and the right door is boarded up. Content on the Internet should be accessible for everyone.

Accessibility is such a big word when it comes to developing websites, it covers a wide range of varying needs from people that are less able in many different ways.

What I would like to show is my perspective when it comes to accessibility on the Internet as a deaf person, and hopefully raise some awareness and maybe some things to consider when you produce work that is going to be shared online. I’ll be focusing on an aspect of online learning as a student with all the new technologies, developing methods or sharing solutions to developing problems and the limitations that I find with specific ways how they deliver the content.

Before I get into the accessibility issues regarding my own perspective, I would like to show you what hearing loss is, and how it affects people. Deafness is a hidden disability which isn’t easy to pigeonhole into one category, as there are wide varying degrees of deafness starting with mild through to profound hearing loss. The charity Action on Hearing Loss compiled a list of statistics from a survey in 2011. They estimate that more than 10 million people in the United Kingdom are affected by deafness and that it will increase to 14.5 million people by 2031. There is also other countries to consider if you’re providing something that would have appeal worldwide especially the United States of America where there are 37 million Americans who have some form of hearing loss according to NIDCD’s statistics completed in 2010. America has a much stronger stance on accessibility particularly when it comes to the Internet.

From personal observations, I have found that most of the deaf community is technological-savvy, utilising technology to improve their own lives, such as using mobile phones to communicate with each other through texting. Prior to the soaring mobile phone popularity we had a device called a “Minicom” which connected to a telephone and communicated with other minicoms, basically a small computer with an in-built keyboard converting the phone signals received into text. This is how we used technology to enrich our own lives, by removing the barriers to communication with other people.

A minicom is a telecommunications device for the deaf. It enables deaf people to communicate with others using a minicom over the telephone.
_A minicom is a telecommunications device for the deaf. You can find out more about this device on Wikipedia._

Learning something new online

The web design industry is fast paced, and new things are cropping up online every day. It is set at a relentless pace where people are eager to learn new things to incorporate into their own toolkits. Fortunately there are a lot of people out there who are willing to share what they’ve learnt, the problems they faced, and how they overcame them.

When I began teaching myself web design by experimenting on websites that I liked the look of, I would save the pages and edit the source code to see what would happen, learning from every failure. I was quite lucky that a lot of the tutorials at the time were very much step-based and accompanied by screenshots of each step or scenarios of what would happen.

Fast-forward a few years later, people started doing articles by a different content delivery method which came in the form of screencasts, which in turn threw up an accessibility issue particularly for deaf people and anybody who were not fluent in the language that was being used by the person that produced the screencast. The step-by-step guide is not entirely disappearing, but it is progressively being replaced by screencasts, where people who encountered problems, and found solutions would record on the computer screen the problem and then solve it while explaining in a voice-over how they overcame the problem.

This particular method of content delivery is quite successful because you can demonstrate how it was solved and how you got to this point. It also allows the viewers to understand the step by step by pausing, if they’re doing it tandem or listening to the voice-over while doing something similar to see how it worked in the background. For a person who can hear, this is the probably the most preferred method of learning. However this is a part where people with hearing loss lose out on learning something new from this content delivery method if there is no support in place. All is not lost here, you can provide something very simple to cater for people with hearing loss or profound deafness by adding a text file (with timings to the transcript) to a video player with captioning support.

You might be thinking “Oh boy, that’s more work than I wanted to do for this screencast.” but if you look it from another angle, with the possibility of providing captioning options to a screencast, it could make your screencast even more popular and with services like YouTube or Vimeo providing captioning support. You could reach a wider audiences via something like Google Translate changing the language from the caption file into another language, then in turn your screencast has a potentially bigger reach worldwide for people who want to learn something if you provide more than one language for the captioning.

I came across someone on YouTube who were adding captioning to the film preview trailers on their own channel in English and French. It provided me with a way to seeing the trailers and understanding the film better, as they’re usually not captioned at all so it becomes more difficult to judge whenever I would like to watch the film at the cinema. Cinemas provide twice weekly captioned showings on selected films in the UK, so for the selected two screenings per week can be quite hit and miss if I did not watch the trailer with captions.

This YouTube channel where it has captioning support for movie trailers in English and French, has over 1,000 subscribers and 1.8 million views (as of 10th April 2014). I think it is quite impressive for a YouTube channel that’s just doing something simple by adding captions and more accessible for everyone to enjoy the content.

A captioned film trailer of the ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’ by DreamWorks. The captions provided by Subtitled Trailers. If you cannot see the captions option, then you may need to click on the YouTube button.

With this in mind, it proves that captioning has its place when it comes to providing content that you want to share with everybody, and that you may even find that your shared content online soars in popularity by including an even wider range of people that have accessibility issues or even with people who speak/write different languages than the one you’re sharing the content online with.

Let’s sum it up

If you are providing video and audio content on something that you want to share with everyone, then please consider catering for those who that may not be able to fully access your content and immerse themselves into what you have provided.

Accessibility is for everybody, and no doors should be closed.

Footnotes

All information collected and used for this article are below:

  1. Action on Hearing Loss - Statistics
  2. National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders - Statistics
  3. Wikipedia: Telecommunications device for the deaf
  4. YouTube Captioning support
  5. Vimeo: Captioning support
  6. YouTube Subtitled Trailers