Accessibility for the Deaf and Hearing-Impaired

10% of the US population (approximately 28 million) has significant hearing loss. 1-2 million Americans use ASL (American Sign Language). Most people think that ASL is a representation of the English language, this is not so; ASL is a language all its own and evolving all the time. When it come to the web and web accessibility, most designers do not take the deaf community into consideration. As long as you have your message in written text, then a Deaf or Hard of Hearing person’s needs are covered. Not necessarily. There’s a lot more to deafness than simply being unable to hear, not least the fact that many Deaf have English as a second language. Lisa Herrod, an independent consultant who has worked with the Deaf community for the past 10 year and a contributor to A List Apart, “When we look at accessibility 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.” Deafness is a culture that most hearing individuals are not aware and therefore, do not take into consideration their needs on Internet.

One aspect that a web designer must take into consideration is the type of English used. If the English is too complex a Deaf cannot actually understand it. Keeping writing for the web simple by using headings and sub headings, one point per paragraph, short lines, and bulleted lists can help a Deaf to navigate, understand, and continue to use the website.

Another point to consider comes from Access STEM, if your web site has a video, offer real time captioning. This allows the Deaf to fully utilize the web site. Captioning does not have to be limited to the Deaf, captioning can also be provided in multi-languages to reach the ELL community. Two years ago, added closed captioning to all of their instructional videos. This is good news for deaf and hearing-inpaired students, but it can also help students that are trying to take notes during the instruction.

The web is an incredible and so far, a limitless community tool. Like all communities, in order to function well, all members must be included. As Tim Berners-Lee, Director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) puts it: "The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect."


S3304 Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act is a very significant bill concerning accessibility to web based information. It passed the Senate on Aug. 5th, 2010. This bill will amend the FCC Communication Act of 1934. The Act of 1934 established specific requirements for telephone manufacturers concerning hearing aid compatibility and the requirement of TRS (Telephone Relay Services) for telephone companies. In 1934 this was a huge step forward for individuals with hearing loss and/or speech impairments. S3304 is set to be just as significant and to have even more of a global impact because of the global communications potential of the Internet. The bill can be viewed in its entirety or in summary at:
Because of the web’s multi-media approach it is imperative for videos to offer closed captioning text in order for hearing impaired people to gain full access. The challenge is the captioning software used by the many different media players is not universal. The next really big step is the coordination of a universal closed captioning software that works with Quicktime, RealPlayer, Windows Media Player or any other media player. Television broadcast companies have been required to include closed captioning since January 1, 2006. Technically Section 508 required that all Federal agencies and their websites were accessible. There were recommendations but no official law requiring closed captioning for web media other than Federal agencies sites. To learn more about Section 508 go to
Now we can hope for a significant change to the accessibility of multi-media presentations such as video from the web. Not only will these changes help vision and hearing impaired people, they will also help many others who may have disorders such as auditory processing or attention deficit. It will also help ELL both when they are using the English version of the caption as well as when they are transferring the caption into their native language when available.
In the meantime we have websites like
with information about the different options for including closed captions on websites. There are also companies that focus on adding closed captioning and insure accessibility such as

Helping Students' With Hearing and Visual Disabilities
The school that I teach at has a lot of students that have hearing and visual disabilities. One of the Pre-K students is actually blind and having the resources available to assist this student has become a very important task at our school. As we all know, in today’s society, students are able to use technology better than they can sometimes hold a pencil. Infant children are able to slide and unlock IPhones and IPads. The Web 2.0 technology that I found and we have at my school is called the BIGmack. This technology is extremely helpful for hearing, visual, and even students with autism. The BIGmack is able to let these students work independently on the computer and it can also help them and their classmates communicate. With the BIGmack, a student can set it up to tell simple task like ," Help me" "Hug Me", " Listen to Music". The BIGmack helps these students learn how to communicate effectively with their classmates and teachers. You can record up to a 2 minute message on it, this is a good thing but can also be a barrier because sometimes it takes more than 2 minutes to explain or help a student understand something or for student to get their thought across. With this technology a student can feel more comfortable around classmates and not be scared to participate in classroom activities. As an educator, my goal is to not only to teach my students, but to make sure that they are successful in all aspects of life, with this Web 2.0 technology, a teacher can help a student build confidence and feel like part of their class and not any different from someone without a disability.