Accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing

Written by Ben Leach on

In the UK, around 9 million people are deaf or hard of hearing and according to the British Deaf Association, more than 151,000 people around the country use British Sign Language (BSL) at home to communicate with others.

British Sign Language. 87,000 of those use it as their first language in front of English (which is often third or fourth in line after other forms of sign language such as American Sign Language). So, how can you consider accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing?

British Sign Language

As with different languages, BSL has an entirely different grammar structure to the English language, meaning that a deaf person may not always be able to understand written English. For example, in English you would say “My name is…” however BSL users would sign ‘Name of me is…’ meaning trying to understand complex written English is often a significant challenge.

The issue with phonics

Phonics are also a difficult challenge for those with hearing difficulties. Imagine a person that was deaf from birth, how do you image they were able to form words? Hearing babies learn from the world around them, deaf babies can’t, but not many hearing people think about it that way. Those of us who are able to hear were taught that ‘ph’ together produces an ‘eff’ sound, much like the letter ‘f’ but those who are deaf are unable to understand this, so how do you imagine they know how to read and form words? People who lose their hearing sometimes also lose the confidence to speak, because they are unable to hear themselves forming the words.

Just like English, British Sign Language is not universal – in fact, although Britain, America, Australia and Ireland speak English, they have an entirely different form of sign language. So, if you’re making a video for British audiences – you don’t want to be making your video interpretation in American Sign Language.

Communicating by gestures

References to communicating via gestures date back to Roman and Greek times, but the first recorded use of (a derivative of) sign language dates back to February 1576 in which a wedding was partly carried out in sign language.

When it comes to being an inclusive online business, the very best way of ensuring your website is accessible is to have an interpreter using sign language throughout the entirety of your website. We appreciate that, in a lot of cases, this is unrealistic. But providing an interpretation of your key services, from your homepage, would help a deaf user to navigate your site. And providing signed relevant content, such as a contact form, should be achievable for everyone.*

What signed content means

Providing signed content means that users that struggle to comprehend written English are able to navigate and use the site as easy as any other user. And at the very least you should be using closed captions for videos, but also include a deaf interpreter when you can.  You may say that it is an expensive thing to do, but if you have a deaf person as part of your team, you have no extra expenditure.

At HeX, we’ve partnered up with Sarah Gatford a BSL/English interpreter, consultant and trainer who has worked with organisations such as the NHS and the police force and is a voice on bridging the gap between organisations and Deaf people. She is helping us become more aware of accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing.

*It’s worth noting that we are currently re-designing our website so that we are practising what we preach. We understand that these things take time and a lot of attention to detail. So please, bear with us whilst we work on our shiny, new and, most importantly, accessible website. In time, we have learnt a lot about improving accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing.

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