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Re: Accessible Web design for the deaf: NOT

From: Joe Clark <joeclark@joeclark.org>
Date: Fri, 8 Aug 2003 14:55:16 -0400 (EDT)
To: WAI-IG <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>, Kynn Bartlett <kynn@idyllmtn.com>
Message-ID: <Pine.BSO.4.53.0308081428500.4353@mail.veldt.ca>

> > I love Web accessibility for the deaf.
> Hold on a sec -- let's not make the jump from "a Deaf organization has
> bad programming" to "man, Web accessibility for the deaf is STUPID."

It is not hard to find media accessible to the deaf that aren't accessible
to anyone else. And deaf people are often quite happy to live with that. A
current example is first-run movies with captioning only and no
description. Even after bringing up the issue on my site and the
Captioning list, I have seen no movement whatsoever among deaf and
hard-of-hearing moviegoers to lobby studios to provide *full*

If I recall correctly, the National Association of the Deaf has supported
description requirements on television. By no means is it universal that
deaf groups are happy to have their accessibility needs met without due
concern for everybody else's. It is, however, a trend I have noticed over
the years.

Thus it is not really surprising that a site built to be accessible to
deaf people would fail rudimentary accessibility standards, like at least
letting me into the site to look at it.

> One example of the problem is that WAI, WCAG 1.0, WCAG 2.0, _Building
> Accessible Websites_, and generally all other accessibility resources
> (including my own) have done little to address the needs of Deaf
> users for whom signing is easier than written English.  In a multimedia
> environment such as the Web, this is the kind of thing that could be
> developed, but there has been almost no attention paid by the Web
> accessibility community to signed communication.

There is reason to believe that provision of, say, captioning is not
equivalent to provision of sign language, the latter of which is a
translation. Once you go down that path, Ukrainian-speakers could
legitimately argue that their inability to understand English-language
sites requires accommodation.

I actually have considerable sympathy for this position, but the provision
of sign language, since it requires a translation (unique among
accessibility provisions), *is* different.

One could reasonably question what should be done with sign-language
videos to make them accessible. Some deaf people would argue they already
are, but that is easy to disprove. Do we need an interpreter to translate
or retranslate the sign back to a spoken language? If so, then we must add
captions. (If the video already has an interpreter or voice, it isn't open
to discussion. You *have* to have captions.) Do we simply insist that
sign-language videos also come equipped with captions? Then we're
demanding a translation, which we do not do anywhere else, not even in
foreign-language passages within Web pages. Do SL videos require audio

I have a reasonably good links list of sign-language videos online and can
attest that no immediately obvious answers have emerged.

If this is the sort of issues that WAI has overlooked, well, we can just
add it to the list of such issues.

And also, should anyone be interested, the reason why I have emphasized
captioning over sign language as an accessibility method for lo these 20
years is because the source of nearly all film and video found everywhere
is voice. Captions are in the same language. The issue of translations is
significant. I am not in favour of a sign-language translation of an
audiovisual work as a first choice. I am of course aware of the SL
requirements in the United Kingdom, and am perfectly happy to support the
inclusion of sign language in audiovisual works as long as captioning is
also provided. As any hard-of-hearing person will tell you, not everybody
who cannot hear can sign.

> knowledge of Web accessibility.  If they don't know, it is as likely
> "our" fault [our = "experienced Web developers who know better"] as
> theirs.

No. It's incumbent on the Web author to provide accessibility. It would be
tokenism to suggest that sites *for* people with disabilities should be
made accessible first or must always meet Priority 3 guidelines, for
example, but it is an absolute *must* that all disability-related sites
meet minimum accessibility requirements.

It's the author's responsibility first. WCAG 1.0, however inadequate it
may be, has been published since 1999. This isn't a whole new concept.

> How many Deaf organizations, or companies serving Deaf organizations,
> are W3C members or are involved in the WAI?

No such organizations appear to be members.

> How many WAI or W3C
> participants represent the needs of blind users?  There's a disparity
> here, and the lack of information goes both ways.

True. But blind users need a bigger boost than deaf users do. No doubt
somebody will start shrieking about that statement, though it is obviously

> I urge the WAI folks, and others involved in Web accessibility
> education and outreach, to take this opportunity to contact Deaf
> organizations, including DeafPlanet, and ask them if we can work
> together to solve problems.

I would suggest contacting DeafPlanet and insisting that their site be
immediately upgraded to minimum standards (which could well include Flash
accessibility). One might also press for an explanation as to why the site
wasn't made accessible in the first place.

See also:


HTMLized version:

(You can also Google the URL in Lynx for a text-only version.)

The BBC study included, IIRC, a couple of deaf participants, one of whom


  Joe Clark  |  joeclark@joeclark.org
  Author, _Building Accessible Websites_
  <http://joeclark.org/access/> | <http://joeclark.org/book/>
Received on Friday, 8 August 2003 14:55:56 UTC

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