"How many times have you been asked this question: if you had to choose, which would you prefer to be: deaf or blind? The question illustrates the misconception that deafness is in some way the opposite of blindness—as though there’s some sort of binary representation of disability. When we look at accessible design for the deaf, it’s not surprising to see it addressed in a similar fashion: audio captioning is pretty much the equivalent of alt text on images for most designers.
Captioning by itself oversimplifies the matter and fails many Deaf people. To provide better user experiences for the Deaf, we need to stop thinking of deafness as simply the inverse of hearing—we need to understand deafness from both a cultural and linguistic perspective. Moreover, to enhance the online user experience for the deaf, we must understand how deafness influences web accessibility.
Little “d” deaf and big “D” Deaf: the distinction
You might have noticed that I’ve been interchanging little “d” deaf and big “D” Deaf in this article. It’s an important distinction—one that the Deaf community makes regularly.
Little “d” deaf describes anyone who is deaf or hard of hearing (HOH) but does not identify with the Deaf community. The Deaf community uses big “D” Deaf to distinguish themselves as being culturally Deaf.
The Deaf community is considered to be a linguistic and cultural minority group, similar to an ethnic community. Just as we capitalise the names of ethnic communities and cultures (e.g., Italian, Jewish) we capitalise the name of the Deaf community and culture. Since not all people who are physically deaf use Auslan and identify with the Deaf community, the d in deaf is not capitalized when we are referring to all deaf people or the physical condition of not hearing.
The Australian Deaf Community is a network of people who share a language and culture and a history of common experiences.
—Australian Association of the Deaf
An interesting thing has happened on the web in the last 18 months—the web community has become more aware of deafness and how it influences accessible design practices.
First, Joe Clark launched The Open & Closed Project (OCP) in November, 2006. Second, in early April, The OCP launched the Captioning Sucks! site.
The Open & Closed Project suggests two methods of presenting accessible media for the deaf and hard of hearing:
* Captioning is the transcription of speech and important sound effects.
* Subtitling is a written translation of dialogue." (Continued via A List Apart, putting people first) [Ergonomics Resources]