Hearing Impairment Digital Accessibility Guide For Web/App Designers
By 2050, it’s predicted that 2.5 billion people will have some degree of hearing loss. At least 700 million of these people will need rehabilitation. The number of people with hearing impairment is only growing.
Technology is a vital part of our lives. We use it for everything, from contacting loved ones to managing money. So why are millions of people cut off from essential tasks due to inaccessible tech? This is wrong. It’s also poor business sense. Accessible tech boosts UX, increases your customer base, and can prevent bad publicity.
Making an accessible website can seem overwhelming. More so because there’s no such thing as a website that’s 100% accessible. Things that may help people with one disability can cause problems for people with another. We’ve tried to simplify this by creating lists of suggestions according to the type of disability their likely to benefit. That way you can take things one step at a time.
Subtitles and Captions
Captioning videos is the most common accessibility suggestion besides adding alt-text. For good reason, too. Studies show that around 50% of all Americans use subtitles and captions to watch videos.
Many people think ‘captions’ and ‘subtitles’ are the same thing, but they have different meanings. Subtitles only show spoken content whilst captions cover all important sound content. This includes laughter, background noises, and music. Subtitles often lack context, which is why captions are always preferable.
There are a few things to consider when creating accessible video content. Captions must be in the right spot. They cannot block any important visual elements. The bottom center of the screen is usually a good place for them. They need to be visible as well. Use a solid background color with contrasting text to keep them clear. It’s also important that your CC button is easy to find and turn on.
Users should be able to customize the font size and color of their captions. Many captions are in black and white. However, this can be challenging to read for people with dyslexia. Plus, the average caption size of 22 points is not going to suit everyone. There should be options to increase and decrease caption size as needed.
Captions need to be synchronized properly. Hearing impairment exists on a spectrum, so many people have some hearing left. A disconnect between captions and what’s happening on screen can be very confusing and irritating. Plus, it can look unprofessional on your end.
Use Mixed Notifications and Prompts
One in 13 Americans over the age of 12 have hearing loss in both ears. As many as 1 in 6 people in the UK have some degree of hearing loss. Hearing impairment is incredibly common. So, why are most notifications auditory?
Audio notifications are mostly unhelpful for people with hearing impairments. If there’s no visual or vibration element, then the notification might be missed entirely. This is bad accessibility, but it’s also just a poor way of promoting your content. Notifications should cater to multiple senses. Incorporate visual, audio, and haptic elements to boost the chance of them being seen.
Multiple Communication Methods
One of the biggest accessibility mistakes companies make is failing to provide options. Different people with different disabilities will need to do things in different ways. For many people with hearing impairments, phone calls can cause difficulties. More so if it’s the only means of contacting a company.
Technology has made it easier to contact people than ever. Plus, we can communicate in so many different ways! Non-phone communication includes email, social media, video calls, letters, and web chat. Giving people options increases the chances of smooth communication. This results in quick problem resolution, increased customer trust, and a better reputation for your company.
Some people have trouble processing captions. Others are unable to concentrate on two things at once. Many simply do not like them. Transcriptions let people consume audio content easily. (And, yes. Before you ask, your platform needs both!)
Transcriptions are text documents that detail all important audio content, not just spoken content. This includes laughter, background music, and sound effects. Think of them like a script for captions. They should give the user a sense of atmosphere.
Self-transcription can be a lengthy process, especially if your content is more than five minutes long. This has made online transcription services popular. Lots of people opt for AI-generated transcriptions, which are cheaper but tend to be less accurate. Human-transcription services are more accurate but quickly get expensive. Using AI-generated transcriptions with a human editor is the most cost-effective way of getting accurate results.
There’s also something in it for you. Transcriptions are great for SEO. This is because search engines are unable to detect keywords from audio content. Transcriptions fill in this blank by providing a document full of potential keywords. This lets the engine categorize your content better, meaning pages are more likely to rank.
Summarize Audio Content
As we said, captions are not an automatic solution that lets everyone consume your content. Many people find them difficult to use. That’s why you should always provide a small summary of any audio content.
Consider using a bullet list to keep the summary short and easy to digest. Use one bullet point per piece of information to keep your content organized. You should only include important information in these summaries. Try not to focus on the small details. This should be a simple overview, nothing more.
Good summaries should cover all the big question words:
Good Quality Audio
All disabilities exist on a spectrum. Hearing impairment is no different. Some people with hearing impairment have some hearing left. So you must make your audio components as clear as possible.
Clarity is an essential part of accessibility. Speakers should talk at an ample volume with minimal background noise. If there’s background music, it needs to be at least 20 decibels quieter than the speaker’s voice. The audio should not have any crackles or interruptions. Use good-quality audio equipment. This reduces the amount of audio editing needed afterward.
Use Plain English
Many people born with severe hearing impairments consider English their second language. This is because they’re usually raised speaking a variant of sign language. Some people think that sign language is just spoken language being communicated visually. However, this is untrue.
Spoken English and sign language both have different sentence structures. Sign language often skips words to convey the sentence in fewer signs. This can make written sentences confusing for signers, especially if they’re wordy.
Plain English conveys information in a way that’s easy to understand. This means using simple words and shorter sentences. You should also use headings, lists, and summaries to break info up.
For further guidance, use our How to Write in Plain English guide.
Easy navigation is the most important part of good web design. If people are unable to find things, then your site is pretty much unusable.
Place everything in a predictable spot. This means things are in the spot you would generally find them. Use your muscle memory if you are unsure where this would be. Where feels natural? If you still need help, then consult sites designed with accessibility in mind. Websites for governments, newspapers, and energy providers are usually a good frame of reference.
Sites with successful navigation always signpost things well. Make sure to label everything correctly and use headings. This lets users find what they need more easily.