Digital Accessibility for hard of Hearing and deafness

Similar to low vision and blindness, there is a wide range of hearing impairments. Some hearing impairments are hardly noticeable in everyday life, others mean that the affected person can only hear with aids or can hardly hear at all.

Slight hearing impairments can go unnoticed in everyday life unless you are doing a hearing test. We hardly notice it in everyday life, but many persons can at least read a little bit from the lips. That's why you can more or less understand persons at a concert or in the disco. If it were pitch dark there, it would also be more difficult to communicate.

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Deaf persons hear little or nothing. Children who are deaf from birth or lose their hearing very early do not learn spoken language. Your first language will be sign language. Although sign language is a completely independent language, it has a different basis than spoken language. Our phonetic language is based on syllables and phonemes, sign language is based on individual signs for words.

Therefore, persons who have not learned spoken language have problems understanding spoken and written language. For them, hearing person's language and writing is like a foreign language.

Subtitles are used in videos so that the deaf and hard of hearing can understand the content. There are two types of subtitles. For foreign-language films, the spoken text is simply translated (OmU). Subtitles for the deaf contain additional acoustic information that the deaf person would otherwise miss.

Subtitles also have a number of benefits for persons who don't have problems with their hearing. If, for example, the sound quality is not so good, such as a recording from a lecture hall with strong reverberation or a lot of background noise, you can read what is being said at the same time. In addition, not all speakers have an understandable voice. Overall, however, persons who are not so proficient in the German language also benefit. Just watch a talk in American English, preferably given by a person from the south states, you'll find it easier to understand the content if you can read what's being said in the subtitles.

For the deaf, sign videos play a special role in communication on the Internet. There are separate communities in which deaf persons exchange information about sign videos. You benefit from the now high bandwidth on the Internet and the good availability of webcams and video cameras.

Content in sign language is relatively rarely provided outside of special portals for the deaf. There are relatively few sign language interpreters in Germany, and the production of sign language videos is currently still quite expensive. Texts that are frequently updated would also have to be resigned each time.

Automatic translators, which translate texts into signs that are presented by a digital avatar, promise a solution to this problem. Such programs are in development, but nobody can say when they will be ready for the market.

Subtitles and Transcripts

Transcripts of audio files and subtitles for videos can be created more easily than sign language videos. A transcript is simply a written version of an audio contribution. A transcript has a few other benefits, by the way. Many persons are not very interested in listening to a podcast for several hours. In addition, it is difficult to search an audio file. Last but not least, a text transcript can be found more easily by search engines. Search engines like text, but they don't like audio or video.

When creating a transcript, it makes sense to fall back on the usual structure of texts, i.e. headlines, lists, quotations and links should be used. The transcript should work as a standalone text. Theoretically, you can include the time index, i.e. describe who said what and when. Everyone has to decide for themselves whether this makes sense.

Meanwhile, there are also some programs that should at least help with copying. With Speech-to-text-technology there is a possibility to transcribe audio files. The results may not be perfect in the end, but that's better than nothing and certainly saves a lot of work.

Easy Reading

Texts in plain language can also be helpful for the deaf.

options for action

Unfortunately, the translation of texts or lectures into simple language or sign language is time-consuming and expensive. Still, there are some ways to enable communication with persons who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Another service in Germany is the Signing Question and Answer Tool. It is possible to accept videos in sign language, have them transcribed into text, write the answer in text, have it translated into sign language and send the questioner as a video. This is especially useful for asynchronous communication, but it can slow down the communication.

It is good for the hard of hearing if the sound is as clear and free of interference as possible.

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