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Deaf people, sign and simple language

From: Charles McCathieNevile <charles@sidar.org>
Date: Thu, 6 Jan 2005 22:25:11 -0600 (CST)
Message-ID: <64612.>
To: public-comments-wcag20@w3.org
Cc: "Melanie Cromwell" <melaniecromwell@yahoo.com>, "Ralph Raule" <Ralph.Raule@Gebaerdenwerk.de>, "Stephan Rothe" <info@stephan-rothe.de>

This text is being forwarded by request, because the authors have been
unable to successfully mail it.
Charles McCathieNevile           charles@sidar.org

Deaf People, the Internet, and the WCAG 2.0

Dear list members,

the following text describes the current situation regarding "Deaf People
and the Internet" in Germany.
It serves as a contribution to the development of the "Web Content
Accessibility Guidelines 2.0" (WCAG). It is based on the working draft of
November 19th, 2004 and also takes the individual contributions in the
W3C-mailing list into consideration.

* First, the different forms of deafness and the resulting needs and
measures will be described.

* Furthermore, technical and content-based support options that allow deaf
people a barrier-free access to information on the Web will be explained.
Concerns and questions relating to various technologies are discussed.

* Different points of the WCAG 2.0 draft will be commented on.

* Suggestions for additions will be made with the intention of ensuring a
basic provision of information through the Web for those deaf people who
primarily communicate through sign language.

Hard of Hearing and Deaf People in Germany

People with hearing impairments are often asked if they hear nothing at all
and therefore are deaf, or  if they have residual hearing and are therefore
hard of hearing. Within the group of deaf people there is a further
distinction into those, who are pre-lingually deaf and those who are
post-lingually deaf. Hard of hearing people are subdivided into mildly,
moderately and severely hard of hearing. This differentiation was done among
other to assign the students to the appropriate school. So regardless of
their linguistic abilities, children with little or no residual hearing were
enrolled in Schools for the Deaf. The other children were enrolled in
Schools for the Hard of Hearing. Recently, those people who have a cochlear
implant (a hearing aid that is implanted into the inner ear) are added as
another subdivision to the group of hearing impaired people.

In Germany, this approach is more and more losing its importance. Instead,
sociological aspects are increasingly coming to the fore in educational
systems and now the auditive and visual competencies of the person concerned
is used as a guide. Also, the strict division into Schools for the Deaf and
Schools for the Hard of Hearing no longer exists in its original form. Most
of the specialized schools are now welcoming all groups of hearing impaired
children, thus are converting into general schools for hearing impaired

As a result of this new approach, the degree of a hearing loss no longer has
the same bearing as decades ago. Instead, the auditive and visual
capabilities and skills of the individual are in the center  of interest. It
is now examined how each hearing impaired person communicates best. Are the
eyes more important for communication than the ears, is the person therefore
visually oriented? Or is the hearing impaired person able to communicate
through his ears despite his impairment, is the person therefore auditively
oriented and requires no or only minimal visual aid in order to communicate?

Nowadays, auditively oriented people can be accommodated with technical
hearing aids in such a way that they can largely participate in society
without being noticed and are hardly perceived as being disabled. It is a
different story for visually oriented people: for them, visual aids are
important and for the most part, sign language is the center of their

Because sign language has a different structure than the spoken language,
its use not only effects  a deaf person's communication in spoken language,
but also his written language competency. At many schools for hearing
impaired children, one has since taken this into account and offers
bilingual classes: during lessons, sign language is being used equally to
spoken language. With bilingual education, an effort to make up for the
limited spoken and written language competency is made.

In the 1990s, such a school project was successfully completed in Hamburg.
The results show that in comparison to other deaf children, those deaf
children who participated in bilingual education  made substantial progress
in their spoken and written language competency and their educational level
is comparable to that of children without a disability. These encouraging
results lead to bilingual education progressively being taken over in many
schools. For following generations of visually oriented people, this is a
positive development, as they are able to communicate in two language
worlds. For all other visually oriented people, this development will remain
without consequence. They will continue to have problems taking in and
understanding written information and clearly expressing themselves through
written language.

The outline described above is rough and does not claim to be complete. Just
like every other disability, each hearing impairment has to be looked at

It can be summarized, that with the help of sign language, visually oriented
deaf people can achieve a higher level of education and a more complete
access to social life - more than would be possible, had they had to
communicate and learn through spoken and written language alone, as was
common in former times.

Support options for deaf people on the Internet

For both groups of hearing impaired people described above, technical
support is important, only the form differs from each other.

For the group of people who are auditively oriented, the legally binding
Ordinance on Barrier-Free Information Technology - Barrierefreie
Informationstechnik-Verordnung (BITV), which is based on the WCAG 1.0 from
1999, already considers many aspects.

English Version:

For example, in Standard 1 of the BITV it is said that "For each ... visual
content, suitable equivalent contents have to be provided fulfilling the
same purpose or function as the original content."

In Standard 1, Requirement 1.4, it is said that "For any time-based
multimedia presentation (in particular movies or animations), equivalent
alternatives (e.g. captions or auditory descriptions of the visual track)
have to be synchronized with the presentation". Applied to multimedia
applications, that means that all sounds need to be visually marked and
highlighted. By this, the needs of the group of auditively oriented people
is essentially covered.

It is a different situation for the group of visually oriented hearing
impaired people: while the BITV  / WCAG 1.0 sufficiently expresses the
formal aspects as described above, it gives only a few concrete clues
concerning content or linguistic aspects. In the BITV Requirement 14.1
regarding the general understanding of content, it is merely said that "the
clearest and simplest language appropriate for a content..." should be used.
This description is not precise enough for visually oriented people, as sign
language is not explicitly mentioned - even if the glossary describes
"natural language" as "Human languages such as German in a spoken or written
form or represented through signs and symbols, but also sign language and

In its statement of 3/24/04 in reference to the BITV, the German Deaf
Association says among other: "Nevertheless, the DGB sees a need for
additional information in the BITV, as it has been sufficiently shown in
practical use that web sites, pages, and graphical user interfaces ... still
have communicational barriers for deaf people. Still far too seldom do
providers make use of the possibility to transcribe complex written
information into German Sign Language."


Occasionally it is assumed (and also in described the WCAG 2.0 draft) that
translation of written texts into a so called "simple language", which is
helpful for people with learning difficulties and migrants, is also
beneficial to deaf people and that it therefore can sufficiently ensure
access to information.

In Germany, many deaf people even have difficulties understanding written
text. A statement by the German Deaf Association on this matter says
following: "In order to ensure equal participation in today's media and
information society, it is extremely important to have good written language
skills in addition to having sufficient media competency. Most deaf people
do not fulfill these prerequisites because of restrictions due to their
handicap. This is a little known fact in the public, or rather, a fact, that
is kept secret in order to avoid possible 'discrimination'".

In many European countries, sign language videos emerged on the web at the
same time and independently from each other during the last few months:

* Diario Signo (Spain):
* Deaf Station (Great Britain):
* Sign Community (Great Britain):
* SignPost (Great Britain):
* Websourd (France):
* Zoom (Norway)
* Tekkenwebben (Sweden):
* Markku Jokinen (Finnland):
* Focus 5 (Switzerland):
* Österreichischer Gehörlosen-Bund (Austria):

The variety and modes of these offerings show that there is a great need for
sign language transcriptions that has not yet been worded. It shows
furthermore, that simpler language for this target group is not relevant.

People with learning difficulties and deaf people both share the demand for
a translation of the written texts. The result of the translation, however,
must differ.

A simplification of language inevitably also means a reduction of
information, while sign language can also convey complex contexts without
the loss of information.

For visually oriented people, who communicate on the basis of sign language,
full access to information is only possible, when information is offered in
sign language - only then can one speak of a full participation in society.

Sign Language on the Internet: Concerns and Challenges

The discussion about the transmission of information with the help of sign
language through the Web is accompanied by recurring concerns. These
concerns are documented in the following:

* Sign Language videos with human translators are expensive?

Of course, professional services are not for free. If only a small
percentage of the means that are available for the accessibility for people
with other disabilities would be used for translations, the situation
regarding a basic provision of information for visually oriented people
would be a lot better than it is today.

* Sign Language videos with human translators are unnecessary, as Avatar
will soon be doing the translations automatically.

Often it is said when talking about sign language videos, that in the near
future, contents will be automatically translated. Here is what the German
Deaf Association says:

"Many web content providers and developers pin their hopes on so called
assistive technologies. This is easily understandable, as it principally
makes "automatic" translations of written text into sign language possible
and would not require web content  providers to deal with the translations
For this reason, the Institute of German Sign Language and Communication of
the Deaf at the University of Hamburg has been doing research on the so
called Avatar for some years now. Avatar is a virtual figure that is to make
the necessary translations for the user at the push of a button. However,
the development of Avatar is still in its initial stage and there are only
rudimentary findings so far. Everybody, who has used a translation program
(between two written languages) will know of the typical problems
encountered in the  transcription of certain syntactical constructions or of
phrases oder technical terms. When translating into sign language, the
problem of transcribing into a different modality (with 3-dimensional
movements of the hands and movements of the upper body, as well as facial
expression and eyes all at the same time) is added.
It will take many more years of research before Avatar can really be put to
the test on the Web. Whether the artificial sign language produced by Avatar
will really be understood and accepted by the target group, will remain to
be seen. (...) Even if the visions of assistive solutions such as Avatar
sound wonderful, it will take years, if not decades, until we know if this
technology can deliver appropriate solutions and if it will be accepted by
the addressees."

* The technical realization is supposedly not clear

In Germany, even today a lot of people have the possibility to surf the web
with a broadband or DSL connection. The band width is sufficient for
watching sign language videos. One can assume that in the future, most
people will be connected to a fast Internet infrastructure. A German survey
conducted over the Web with over 600 deaf people showed that 80% have a fast
Internet connection available.

The technical provision of videos on the Web does require expert knowledge,
but is possible with the help of PlugIns.

* There are not enough sign language interpreters available

Especially when assuming that people, who are competent in both spoken as
well as sign language and who, if possible, are "native signers" sign the
translation, then the availability of experts really is limited. This,
however, does not speak against the use of sign language videos, but rather
for an efficient use of the human resource and its concentration at central
platforms of basic provision of information.

Comments on the Working Draft of 11/19/04 from the Viewpoint of German Deaf

We believe following remarks on the working draft and the contributions from
the W3C mailing lists to be of importance:

* It should be made clear that within the group of deaf people, there is a
relevant group of visually communicating people for whom simple language is
no benefit and for whom a transmission of information through sign language
is without alternative.

* It should be made clear that at least a summary of the most important
information should be offered in sign language.

* It should be made clear that as long as a technical Avatar is not usable,
the information needs to be provided through human sign language videos
(this can mentioned together with the still to be added comments on the
Avatar in the glossary).

* It should be made clear that the amount of translations to be offered is
to be defined on a national basis through negotiations.

In reference to that last point, here is a comment regarding a contribution
to the W3C-WAI-GL mailing list:

>>Level 3 Success Criteria for Guideline 1.2
>>1. Sign Language interpretations are provided
>>for multimedia (either real-time or
>>prerecorded) in the language of the dialog

>* WCAG cannot require translations.
>Where does that end? Can Ukrainians require
>that all Web pages carry Ukrainian translations?


To our understanding, a Ukrainian generally has the potential to learn the
language of his country of residence. One of the consequences of the
"disability deafness" is that learning spoken and written language is not
fully possible and for that reason access to information can only be ensured
through sign language translations. As far as that goes, the WCAG should
demand translations in order to open up the possibility for national
interest groups to step into discussions with the information providers
about type and size of the translations.

Suggestions for formulations for the WCAG 2.0

Working Draft of 11/19/2004

"Level 3 Success Criteria for Guideline 3.1:
# Alternative representations: summaries, paraphrases, examples,
illustrations, and symbolic languages"

Add the word "sign language".
Following wording should also be added to:

"Including sign language translations for key pages or sections of the

Another comment should be taken into consideration:

"Who Benefits from Guideline 3.1 (Informative)
Using clear and simple language also benefits people whose first language
differs from your own, including those people who communicate primarily in
sign language."

In Germany, the inclusion of deaf people as beneficiaries of "simple
language" has already been used as an argument against the use of sign
language translations. From our point of view, the  wording regarding deaf
people should be removed.

Suggestions for the realization of sign language videos that could possibly
be included in the technical explanations of the WCAG 2.0

Following suggestions for the realization of sign language videos have
proven to be helpful:

* Consider carefully which information, in your mind, is important for the
translation into sign language. Let yourself be advised by those who are to
be the users.

* Be aware that, with few exceptions, only "native speakers" or rather
"native signers" should be used for SL videos. That means deaf people, who
have communicated via sign language since earliest childhood.

* Ideally, the translator/interpreter should wear a long-sleeved,
patternless unicolor shirt that is in contrast to the background.

* For the video cut, it is sufficient, if the upper body is visible.

* The background should not be too dark, but also not too bright, so that
the translator/interpreter contrasts well with the background.

* Use a resolution of at least 256 x 192 pixels. A good value for a good
video quality can be achieved with a picture size of 320 x 240 pixels.

* The pictures must run fluently and may not have jerky movements.
Therefore, you should use at least 25 pictures per second.

* For the group of visually communicating people, subtitles and sound are
not necessary when text has previously been provided. Sign language videos
are a translation of contents that are already available in text form.
Before the making of a sign language video carefully consider if the purpose
and context may make subtitling and spoken text necessary.

* Use a uniform symbol for the reference to sign language videos.

>From our point of view, it would be extremely helpful if a worldwide uniform
graphical symbol would make reference to an available translation into sign
language. We would like to see the W2C encourage the development of a
suitable symbol.

Thank you for your time and consideration!


Ralph Raule
Stephan Rothe
Melanie Cromwell

The authors:
Ralph Raule is the representative for Internet and Multimedia for the German
Deaf Association. Raule graduated in Business. In 2003 together with two
other deaf experts he founded Gebaerdenwerk, a company that produces sign
language videos. http://www.gebaerdenwerk.de

Stephan Rothe is a Consultant, Web Developer and expert in accessibility.

Melanie Cromwell is Rehabilitation Counselor acting as translator.
Received on Friday, 7 January 2005 04:25:44 UTC

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