Designing for Hearing Impairments

This is part six of a series that begins here: Designing for Accessibility.

In the previous article in this series I talked about design considerations for visitors with visual impairments. This article will talk about designing for visitors who are deaf or have hearing impairments. Even if your site has no audio content, there are still design considerations for deaf and hearing impaired visitors.

Keep content clear and simple

For some deaf and hearing impaired people, sign language is their first language and English (or whatever language your pages are in) is their second. Sign languages have different sentence structure and syntax than spoken languages — they are not simply translations. Keeping your content as easy to read as possible will make it more accessible to these visitors, as well as other English-as-a-second-language (ESL) visitors, those with learning disabilities and cognitive impairments, and those with lower literacy levels.

  • Structure content with headings to break up text and make it easier to scan.
  • Avoid long, dense blocks of text.
  • Use clear and simple language, and avoid jargon or slang.
  • Augment complex text with pictures or illustrations that accurately convey content.

Provide audio and visual cues for important notifications

If you provide audio notifications for important changes in state, also provide a prominent visual notification for users who can’t hear the audio or who have the sound turned off.

Provide captions or transcriptions for multimedia content

This one is relatively self-explanatory, but the benefits are broad. Deaf and hearing impaired visitors will be able to understand the content, as will hearing visitors who might be reading your site from a place where they can’t play audio content. ESL visitors will be able to understand the content more easily, and non-English speaking visitors can have Google or other services translate it. The text version can also be indexed by search engines, making the content easier to find.

From a design standpoint, the design should take into account:

  • how visitors will turn captions on or off
  • how visitors will access the transcription, if it’s provided on a separate page

(If you’re providing content on YouTube, Google provides English-language speech recognition on videos. The transcriptions for automatic captioning generally aren’t great, but if you provide a transcript file the automatic timing feature can be helpful, and there are other tools available to help caption YouTube content from transcript files if the automatic timing doesn’t work for you. The Web Accessibility Center at Ohio State University has a great article on captioning for YouTube. If you are not using YouTube, video editing software like Camtasia and Adobe Premiere offer captioning.)

Up next in this series, one final question to consider: what is the experience when JavaScript is turned off?

November 15, 2011 · Tags: , ,

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