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  • Writer's pictureGurm Singh

Deaf Awareness and Accessibility Tools for Inclusive Design

Hearing loss affects millions of people around the world. It's important that we focus on designing technology that is accessible to everyone. In Canada, approximately three in five adults have hearing loss, tinnitus, or both conditions. From hearing aids and assistive listening devices to closed captioning and sign language interpretation, there are many innovative tools and technologies that can help individuals with hearing impairments to take part in today's digital world.


In this blog post, we'll explore some of the most effective ways to design technology with accessibility in mind, and how doing so can not only improve the lives of those with hearing impairments but also benefit businesses and organizations by reaching a wider audience (See the business case for inclusive design).


Understanding Hearing Impairments

There are three main types of hearing impairments:

  • The Deaf with ‘capital D’ who communicate using sign language was deaf for most of their lives

  • The deaf with ‘lowercase d’ who usually became deaf later in life

  • Hard of hearing (HoH) relates to people with some but not complete hearing loss due to conditions like conductive hearing loss, tinnitus, and perceptive deafness.

(ADA Site Compliance, 2022)


Terms

Conductive Hearing Loss

This type of hearing loss is caused by a problem in the outer or middle ear, such as a blockage or damage to the eardrum. People with conductive hearing loss may struggle to hear quiet sounds or distinguish between different frequencies, which can make it difficult to use devices with audio cues, such as alarms or notifications.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Mixed Hearing Loss

Central Hearing Loss

Tinnitus

Perceptive Deafness

It's important to note that the impact of hearing impairments on technology use can vary depending on the individual and the severity of their impairment. Some people may benefit from hearing aids or other assistive listening devices, while others may need more advanced accommodations, such as closed captioning or sign language interpretation.


For more information and resources on the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community in Calgary, check out: Information and Deaf Resources.


Designing for Accessibility

We've put together some suggestions on how you can design your solutions and services to be accessible to those with hearing impairments.

Accessible transportation

  1. Use clear and simple language: Avoid using terms or language that may be difficult for people with hearing impairments to understand. Use short, simple sentences and break up large blocks of text with headings and bullet points.

  2. Provide captions or transcripts for audio and video content: Captions and transcripts are essential for making audio and video content accessible to people with hearing impairments. This helps makes it easier for more people to understand and follow along.

  3. Offer alternative ways for individuals to contact your company: If someone with a hearing impairment needs to contact your company, make sure there are other ways for them to do so. This could include email, text messaging, or video conferencing with closed captioning or sign language interpretation.

  4. Use visual cues: Incorporating visual cues, such as icons or animations, can help provide more context and information to individuals with hearing impairments. This can be especially helpful for notifications or alerts, where audio cues may not be enough.

  5. Test your design with individuals with hearing impairments: To ensure that your technology is accessible, it's important to test it with individuals who have hearing impairments. This can help identify any areas that may need improvement and ensure that your design is inclusive.

  6. Make use of visual and textual information: Ensure that important information, such as opening hours and points of interest within your venue, are clearly displayed through appropriate signage. It may also be helpful to use pictograms in combination with written information to make it easier for deaf individuals to navigate your venue and access the services they need.


Innovative Ideas: The University of Calgary students presented new software sponsored by Garmin which translates American Sign Language (ASL) into English

Electrical engineering student, Omar Radwan talks about their project for Engineering Design Fair at University of Calgary on Tuesday April 4th, 2023. JAS MANN / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

On Tuesday, April 4, 2023, The Schulich School of Engineering presented its annual Engineering Design Fair, where hundreds of students presented final projects they’ve been working on.


Electrical engineering students Omar Erak, Dillon Sahadevan, Ranbir Briar and Omar Radwan developed a program that translates ASL into English for people who don’t know to sign.


Innovative Ideas: Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) Research


A new and exciting area of study is brain-computer interface research, which may mean great things for individuals with hearing impairments. Scientists funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) are exploring how neural signals in the brain are translated by a computer to help people communicate. While brain-computer interfaces have traditionally been used to assist individuals with motor impairments, such as those with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or brainstem stroke, recent hackathons have focused on developing BCI technology to enhance one of the senses or enabling basic motor functions for people with disabilities. In the case of hearing impairments, researchers are exploring the possibility of developing BCIs that connect to a person's ear or translate sounds into brain signals. Such innovative technologies have the potential to revolutionize the way individuals with hearing impairments interact with the world around them.

Read more about the Hackathons: https://medium.com/@gurmolsofly12/neuraalbertatech-nat-hacks-2021-2022-27ec98695a3a



Learn more about how you can adjust your devices to fit your hearing needs:


Sources:


Calgary Association of the Deaf. (n.d.). Information and deaf resources. https://www.cgyad.com/information-and-deaf-resources/

The Canadian Encyclopedia. (2013). Hearing loss. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/hearing-loss

Hearing Loss Association of America. (2021, August 11). Types, causes and treatment. https://www.hearingloss.org/hearing-help/hearing-loss-basics/types-causes-and-treatment/

Statistics Canada. (2021, October 20). Hypertension associated with hearing health problems among Canadian adults aged 19 to 79 years. Statistics Canada: Canada's national statistical agency / Statistique Canada : Organisme statistique national du Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-003-x/2021010/article/00002-eng.htm


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