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Digital Accessibility for the d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Posted September 22, 2022


Posted September 22, 2022

A laptop is open and displaying a website, next to icons for deafness and accessibility
A laptop is open and displaying a website, next to icons for deafness and accessibility

Digital accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing is more than just captions and subtitles. Learn about other ways to make your website more accessible for people with hearing impairments.

When people talk about digital accessibility for the deaf or hard of hearing, they usually start — and end — with closed captioning for videos, sound clips, and podcasts.

Providing captions and transcripts for all of your audio content is an important part of making sure your website is accessible to everyone, but it isn’t the only thing you should do.

In this post, we discuss the different types of hearing impairments and share tips on how you can deliver an equal browsing experience for people with hearing loss.

Test your website for these best practices using a web accessibility checker.

Icons for the three types of hearing impairment: deaf (lowercase), Deaf (capitalized), and Hard of hearing

Understanding Definitions Around Hearing Impairment

One thing to note before we get started: Hearing impairment isn’t binary. There are different types of hearing disabilities, and degrees of hearing loss within these groups:

  • Deaf (lowercase): When not capitalized, deaf refers to the condition of not hearing.
  • Deaf (capitalized): Deaf refers to the community and culture of deaf people who share the language of American Sign Language (ASL). Members of the Deaf community have typically lived their entire life not hearing, with ASL being their first language.
  • Hard of hearing: Hard of hearing refers to mild to moderate hearing loss. Many people with various levels of deafness prefer this term to others.

As you consider ways to make your digital content accessible to people with hearing impairments, aim to deliver an accessible experience for all of these groups.

4 Tips for Better Accessibility

Here are four tips to help you make sure your content is accessible to people with hearing impairments. Several are geared toward a specific type of hearing loss, but we recommend adopting all of them to deliver the most inclusive experience possible.

A list of accessibility tips for people with hearing impairments: provide closed captions, give people another way to get in touch, invest in high-quality audio, and don't use autoplay

1. Provide Closed Captions and Transcripts

People are watching more video content than ever, but d/Deaf and hard of hearing users can be left behind if videos aren’t designed for accessibility. Adding captions helps people with hearing impairments follow the entire thread of your video, not just what’s on screen.

We recently shared a post on six tips to make your videos accessible, but here are some high-level best practices for closed captions:

  • Proof captions by hand: There are plenty of programs that will automate captions for your videos. Unfortunately, voice recognition is not perfect, which can confuse or frustrate people who rely on captions. Proofing your captions with human eyes and ears can help catch those mistakes.
  • Synchronize captions: Make sure your captions and subtitles appear on screen as close as possible to when they are said in the video. Many people who are deaf have some hearing — and poor timing can be jarring.
  • Check caption placement: Make sure your captions don’t interfere with important visual elements on the screen. Captions are usually placed at the bottom-center of the display, but you can move them when necessary.
  • Provide simple access: Make it easy for people to find the caption controls for your videos. Make sure the controls to toggle captions on/off are clearly labeled and easy to see.

Want to see an accessible video in action? The World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative shares an example on its page Colors with Good Contrast.

That video provides:

  • Audio and video content with accessibility considerations, such as low background audio.
  • Captions.
  • A version of the video with description of visual information integrated in the main audio, and description available as text.
  • A media player with accessibility support, including an interactive transcript.

2. Give People Another Way To Get in Touch

For many businesses, their website is the primary way they connect with potential customers. You want people to be able to easily contact your business, whether they want to book an appointment, place an order, or get more information about your products or services.

For that reason, you should provide multiple contact options on your website. Don’t just list a phone number for your business, as deaf and hard of hearing people cannot hear well on the phone. Offer other ways to get in touch, like email, live webchat, or online forms.

3. Invest in High-Quality Audio

This feels like one of those tips that should apply to videos in general. Of course you want audio that’s crisp, clear, and free of background noise! It’s yet another example of how building an accessible experience often means building a better experience for everyone.

With that said, high-quality audio is central to video accessibility. Many people with deafness still have some level of hearing. People with hearing loss tend to be able to hear better — whether they’re using hearing aids or not — when there is little background noise getting in the way of what they want to hear.

Try to make sure the audio on your site is free of background noise and the sound you want people to hear is clear. As an added bonus, this will also help transcribers hear the audio better and write more accurate transcriptions.

4. Don’t Use Autoplay

There are plenty of accessibility reasons to avoid using autoplay (not to mention the fact that many people find this type of content intrusive and annoying):

  • Autoplay doesn’t give viewers time to set up assistive technology (AT).
  • People who are hard of hearing often have the volume on their devices turned up. It can be embarrassing if they’re in a public place and your website starts loudly playing an audio file.
  • If your audio file is attached to a video that includes flashing elements, you could unintentionally trigger a seizure for certain viewers.
A stylized webpage that shows an icon of the sound muted

Additional Resources

Want to learn more about designing for accessibility? Check out our Comprehensive Guide on Accessible Web Design. Or, dive into our favorite resources on how to work with and support d/Deaf and hard of hearing co-workers and employees:

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