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Accessibility Webinars Inaccessible to Deaf People

There are many times when people talk about accessibility, they do not think about making their information accessible via visual means such as real time captioning to those who cannot hear or making recordings accessible before putting them online.

It’s understandable that many people are not familiar with accessibility until I explain to them why it is important to provide quality communication access to deaf and hard of hearing people. However, there’s no excuse for accessibility advocates to disregard our needs for inclusion, especially with so many technologies available today to make it possible. Sadly, some of them do not provide captioning in real time and/or make recordings accessible via captions first before releasing them to the public – even when being asked for it in advance. It is similar to our personal experiences being told by many hearing people: “I’ll tell you later” and “Never mind” which are our major pet peeves. Those words make us feel hurt, left out and not important enough to be included in conversations. We did not choose to become deaf and want to be included. We have been fighting to get the same rights to full and equal communication access at the same time as hearing people. We would not feel disabled if society had removed physical and attitudinal barriers for us. It’s sad that some accessibility advocates show that it’s okay to perpetuate that kind of behavior towards deaf and hard of hearing people by not making aural information fully accessible to them.

Here are many examples of organizations disregarding the needs of those who rely to access to information about accessibility via captioning, and I’m listing just a few:

  • M-Enabling Summit 2013 was captioned in real time which is great, but their recordings were not captioned before they were released to the public. Dave Gardy from TV Worldwide said in his comment on the COAT blog post: “We’ll try to get the bulk of this tomorrow. It just takes time and we’re doing this all at our cost. I apologize for the delay, but there are many people asking us about where the video files are and we wanted to get them up as quickly as possible. Thanks for your patience.” What’s rush for hearing people to see those videos? Dave telling deaf people to be patient? Are needs of hearing people more important than needs of deaf/hoh people? If hearing people want us deaf/hoh people to be patient, then we would appreciate their patience to wait for videos before they are accessible for everyone to enjoy at the same time.
  • NonProfit Webinars hosted a webinar, The WAI to Web Accessibility, that was not accessible to deaf people via real time captioning. I was told that the host organization did not caption the webinar, but Knowbility would caption the post-event recording. While it’s great that the recording would be captioned, it makes me feel sad that deaf and hard of hearing people cannot participate in webinars and contribute to discussions in real time. Why should we wait until after webinars are recorded – especially that they are about accessibility?
  • Kaltura did their webinar recently about captioning videos that sadly also was not captioned in real time, and I was told that only the recorded version would be captioned. However, when I was informed of their recent webinar recording about captioning in videos, they were not captioned either. I do not know if they plan to make webinars accessible in future, but I hope so because deaf and hard of hearing people need to be able to participate in webinars like everyone else and not to wait until recordings are captioned (I checked other recordings that weren’t captioned either).

I also wrote an article about Paralympics 2012 organizers who did not make their aural information accessible via captioning for online videos and live events and disregarded needs of deaf and hard of hearing people for full communication access which is sad because Paralympics was about people with disabilities and not all of them were included.

Fortunately, there are also some good examples of accessible webinars that I had the opportunity to participate in. There were some inconveniences I experienced during webinars such as technical issues with one webinar, real time captioning in all caps instead of mixed case that is easier to read, no option to view some webinars on a mobile device, etc. However, those organizers told me they were working on eliminating those inconveniences for future webinars which is great and shows that they are seriously dedicated to improving experience for deaf and hard of hearing people and anyone in general. Also, they decided to provide real time captioning without anyone asking them for it in advance to show that captioning is universal access and benefits many people and not just those who cannot hear. More organizations should follow those good examples.

Accessibility is MORE than just about adding ALT to images or ARIA to websites. It needs to be holistic. Accessibility is not something that is cool to talk about – if you are not willing to make your information accessible to more people with disabilities and disregard important feedback to improve, please don’t talk about accessibility. You need to actually walk the talk.

If you are new to deafness and would like to make your aural information accessible, contact us for consulting and training.

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