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Online Communication and Information Access for Deaf People

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, many people are currently working and learning remotely using various video conferencing tools. While those tools are not new and have been around for a while, they weren’t used regularly until now. Some are familiar with those tools if they have been using them regularly while others are new to them.

Like with communication in person, deaf people also need access online – including but not limited to: captioning (real-time and post-production), sign language interpretation, using assistive listening devices.

Please note that the information on this page is not exhaustive – only basic tips are shared to help you get started. If your organization needs customized advice on how to make your online content accessible for deaf people, contact us.

First and foremost, it’s important that access services are of good quality – especially when it comes to formal content, online classes, and work meetings. Bad audio, bad captions, bad sign language interpretation are not better than nothing.

  • Audio: Test audio quality to make sure that people who rely on hearing devices can hear clearly and ask them for feedback.
  • Captions: While there are auto captioning features in video conferencing tools, it’s better to use professionals who can produce captions that are more accurate than auto generated captions.
  • Sign language: When using interpreters or communicating with signers, make sure that they are well lit, seen from top of head to waistline, and are in front of plain background with good contrast.

If possible, use hard wired internet connection – especially if remote sign language interpreting services are used and/or if sign language users participate in virtual meetings. Video feature is needed for sign language access and requires as high bandwidth as possible to ensure that signing looks smooth in the video.

Virtual meetings

Video conferencing tool manufacturers have accessibility departments that explain on their websites how to make virtual meetings accessible:

There are many more tools out there. All those tools have pros and cons in terms of accessibility and usability, so if you have any issues, please make sure to contact the manufacturers for feedback. It will help them improve their products.

For example, Zoom – the most popular video conferencing tool – has a captioning feature that allows you to either use auto-generated captions or professional captions via a third party vendor. Auto-generated captions have quality issues and can be used only as the last resort if a professional captioner cannot be used. Even if a professional captions are used, the way the captions are embedded in the Zoom makes it hard to read them as they are chunked randomly and have more delays. For that reason, it’s best to read real-time captions in a separate browser window or a separate app.

Online videos and podcasts

If you include captions and transcripts in your online videos and podcasts, make sure that they follow quality guidelines.

You can do it yourself or choose to outsource professional services. The latter is a better option as it helps you ensure that text is done professionally and easy to read and understand.

Please keep in mind that post-production captions for videos are not the same as real-time captions for events (online and in person).

Basic tips for making post-production captions for online videos:

Basic tips for real-time captions for live events via a third party vendor:

For emergency press conferences, sign language interpreters are provided in addition to real time captions. Usually interpreters are standing next to speakers or are displayed in a PIP (picture-in-picture) on TV and in videos.

Technology keeps changing and so are accessibility needs. Also new technologies come up and old ones are discontinued. So information on how to use tools keeps changing.

Just using speech to text services is not enough. There are many moving parts to consider.

For those reasons, our deaf consultant provides a detailed customized consulting service for businesses like yours on optimal communication and information access for deaf people at events and for media.

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