Many developers don’t think about audio accessibility when they think of web accessibility. This is understandable as many websites contain visual features (content, images, etc.) But with the use of video and multimedia content is increasing, equal access to your website must include access to all forms of information.
Disabilities, like the people who live with them, differ greatly from person to person. This is very much true with hearing related disabilities, making meeting their audio accessibility needs online not necessarily a one size fits all approach.
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. (W3C, 2013)
When sound equates accessibility
Meet Kate, a WeCo Certified Test Consultant(CTC), lives with an 80 percent hearing deficit. Her hearing loss is a result of a genetic sensorineural hearing disorder that has challenged her family members for generations. Kate was fitted with her first hearing aids at the age of twenty-eight.
Despite having hearing aids, Kate must still work at understanding what is being communicated to her through words and sounds. With the constant effort that it takes Kate to understand words and sounds, it should be no surprise that she relies on visual elements to convey information.
That is why video captioning is so important to Kate , and to many others who live with a hearing impairment. If movies, television, or websites offer no captioning for their audio features, the content is lost to a person living with a hearing disability.
Whenever sound is present use closed captioning. Audio transcripts can also be very helpful to users, providing them more than one way to receive the information the sounds conveys. Be sure to make certain that the closed caption controls are properly labeled and easy to use. Transcripts should also be labeled in a self-explanatory language that doesn’t make locating them an Easter egg hunt.
Good quality captioning, and transcripts, allows people with limited hearing, or who are deaf, to have equal access to the information the rest of us hear.
Website accessibility and ASL
Some people with more profound hearing loss, may use Sign Language as their primary communication. American Sign Language, or ASL, is different from standard written English. Because it may not be their first language, ASL users may have limited experience with standard written English.
Website text that uses clear, simple language can be helpful in successfully reaching people who call ASL their first language.
Kate’s Story: IT Accessibility and Living with a Hearing Impairment
Striving to Hear in a Digital World
Lynn Wehrman - President, Director of Accessibility Services says
This is a good point, but it’s important to note that whenever a user must hear something to access information being conveyed, it has the potential to be inaccessible. This applies to videos that are not properly captioned and do not provide a transcript. (Transcripts describe what is happening in the video for individuals who cannot see it, in addition to providing audio information.) It’s important to note that it can also apply in other ways, such as sounds that “chime,” for instance, when a form is submitted. We often tell our training attendees to make certain they are providing information in more than one way to make it accessible to everyone.