Audio Accessibility was founded by Svetlana Kouznetsova, or Sveta for short. She is a NYC-based user experience and accessibility professional helping businesses increase sales and make their products more user-friendly. She provides consultation and training to businesses about improving and expanding the quality and impact of their audio, video, and event communication.
Why a website and a book?
Sveta created this website and wrote a book because she has direct experience with deafness and wanted to increase awareness about abilities and needs for communication and information access to people like herself. She was born with normal hearing and became profoundly deaf in both ears at the age of two due to meningitis.
She has met numerous hearing people who tell her how much they also benefit from captions when learning foreign languages or when listening to a speaker that is hard to understand. Captioning is an important part of multimodal learning that allows people to remember 50% of what they see AND hear (compared to remembering only 20% of what they just hear). It is also a key to improving literacy.
How does Sveta communicate with people?
Sveta is bilingual in Russian and English and uses voice/speechreading, writing/typing, and/or sign language to communicate with people depending on the situation and whom she is talking with. Since she became the only deaf member in her family, she has relearned to speak and lipread in Russian and later learned English.
Although Sveta cannot understand everything and everyone by lipreading, it is easier for her to understand certain people if they face her, speak clearly, and don’t talk too fast. If she does not understand people by lipreading, she asks them to write down or sign what they say. Sign language makes it much easier and faster for her to communicate with people in person, even if someone has a basic knowledge of sign language – it facilitates lipreading. She is also better at conversing one to one than in groups where people would take turns summarizing to her what’s being said (by respeaking or writing or signing).
Sveta is also familiar (though not yet fluent) with Cued Speech and finds it very beneficial to know how to pronounce words correctly and to be aware of others’ speech styles (including foreign accents). A former hearing aid user, Sveta now hears with a cochlear implant from Advanced Bionics which she loves. Sveta has limited benefits from the implant – due to the long duration of her deafness and almost no auditory memory prior to receiving the implant at the age of 20, she is not able to discriminate speech without lipreading or relying on other visual means.
For public events Sveta is provided with CART writers and sign language interpreters to get full access to aural information.
Why is accessibility important for me?
English is my second spoken language that I started learning at age 11 as a foreign language requirement in a regular Russian school. I was transferred there to get a better secondary education after spending the first four years at a Russian school for the deaf.
While I could easily understand deaf students and hearing teachers through Russian Sign Language, it was quite a challenge for me to be in a new school where I was the only deaf person and had to rely on lipreading to communicate with hearing students and teachers whom I couldn’t always understand. Despite my intelligence, I missed a lot in classes for seven years and had to do more work than my hearing classmates due to no formal communication accessibility such as CART writers and sign language interpreters.
Only with support from my family, teachers, and some classmates, I could get through high school – though not on the equal footing with my hearing peers.
An excellent secondary education and knowledge of English helped me get into an American college. While in college and graduate school, I no longer had to struggle with communication accessibility in order to get higher education and could finally start enjoying it – thanks to the requirements by the American Disability Act to provide equal accessibility for people with disabilities in many areas of their lives (education, employment, entertainment, etc.). While it is not perfect here and I still have to educate many hearing people about my needs and abilities, it’s still much better here than in Russia or other countries when it comes to opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing people or anyone with a disability in general.
I am glad that my deafness has not prevented me from doing many things that hearing people do. It has been very difficult, and I have always had to prove myself every time, but it is my deafness that has shaped me who I am today. I am proud of what I have accomplished so far and am very grateful for support from my family and people whom I have met during my life.
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