Website Accessibility - Part 3

Making Your Website Accessible to the Hearing Impaired

August 01, 2020

The range of hearing impairment varies greatly from people who have mild to moderate hearing impairment in one or both ears to those who are completely deaf. Unfortunately, despite the large number of people globally who are hearing impaired, web developers don’t often have this group of people in mind when building websites. There is often an assumption that, because people who have a hearing impairment can see the content on the screen, they are not impacted in the realm of web accessibility. Perhaps, at one point this may have been the case when websites consisted of nothing more than text and images, but websites are increasingly utilizing video and audio content - media which is totally unavailable to 5% of the world’s population without some modifications.

What most developers probably don’t realize is that all audio and video content on a website should include closed captions or transcripts. While there is currently no legal requirement for web developers to include captions for audio or video content, it is a standard stipulated by the Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG - 2.2.0). Fortunately, adding captions to this type of media is fairly straightforward with the help of various, free, online captioning tools. I found YouTube to be the easiest option for this (see end of post). If none of those options work for you, adding a typed transcript to your site is another option you could look into.

When adding closed captions to any audio/video content, be sure not to get them confused with subtitles. Subtitles, which mainly serve the purpose of helping people who do not speak the language in the recorded media, only display the words being spoken. Captions, on the other hand, will include the words spoken in written format, along with a description of the music and sounds in order to give a better understanding of the content.

One of the best things about adding closed captions to this kind of content is that it not only makes these forms of media accessible to the hearing impaired, it makes your site more user friendly to people who are learning to speak the language heard in the audio/video and also makes it easier for all users to engage with content even if they are in a quiet setting.

In addition to adding captions to video and audio content there are a couple of text-based considerations you should be making:
  • Use imagery and simply language in written text. Including jargon in your content, which may only be spoken by people in your target community, can be problematic for some people with a hearing impairment. If your user’s first language is sign language, overly verbose sentences filled with complicated or ‘in-the-know’ keywords could make it harder for users to interpret what you’re trying to communicate. Take the time to think about the message you’re trying to send and how to say it simply and concisely, supporting with images where possible, so that all potential users can understand it.
  • Provide more than just a contact number: If you're building a site that includes contact details, be sure to include multiple contact options. While email addresses and forms are more readily available on websites, some businesses still only provide a phone number. I find government sites are often the worst culprits for this. They’ll give a list of phone numbers to call where you spend 5-10 minutes listening to robots and press numbers on the keypad. Providing nothing more than a number/s is a huge issue for people who have a hearing impairment and have trouble hearing everything someone says on a phone or can’t hear them at all. Try and add a variety of options including phone number, live web chat, email address, web form etc.

Adding Captions to Videos with YouTube

Adding captions to any video with YouTube is incredibly easy. Simply start by uploading your video to YouTube, and check either private or public in the final step of the process. Your video may take several minutes to upload depending on its size. Once ready, head to YouTube Studio and click on 'Subtitles' in the left panel.

Subtitles in left-hand panel.

From here, simply click the video you want to edit, select a language from the dropdown on the next screen, and click confirm.

Select language for your captions.

Under 'Subtitles, click 'ADD', select your preferred method (upload a file, transcribe and auto-sync, or create new subtitles or cc) and add your captions.

Adding captions to images in YouTube.

It can be a little time consuming, particularly if your video is long, but, just be patient and remember that you are doing a good thing for your users.

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