Category: Hearing

This category contains information for hearing accessibility. Topics include prelingual and postlingual deafness for profound deafness and hard-of-hearing. Information is also provided for presbyacousis (old-age hearing loss).

Winning Videos Include Captions!

Something Big is Happening in 2013

2013 is a special year. STC turns 60. And the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says that by 30 September 2013, "100% of new video programming shown on U.S. television with captions must have captions when shown online." Yes, that is what the FCC internet captioning deadlines say. This is due to the law known as 21st CVAA, or the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. Who knows how that ruling will affect technical communicators? This is a U.S. ruling for television, but these things have a way of trickling around the world and to other industries. With globalization, there is no trickle. A ruling in one country can affect the work you do today, regardless of where you are based. Perhaps you are not in a job affected by all this today, but where will you be tomorrow? If captioning is somewhere in our techcomm futures, why wait for a deadline? Why not try it out today?

How to Caption Videos?

It's actually quite easy. Ridiculously easy, I'd say. I presented a little tutorial on captioning with YouTube back in 2010 at both the We Accessibility London Unconference and the Technical Communication UK conference. You need to download the slides to get all the juicy details from the notes. Members of STC can also read this tutorial re-written as a magazine article for the January 2011 edition of the STC Intercom. Once you get all excited about captioning, I recommend reading DCMP's Captioning Key. There are also resources available at the National Center for Accessible Media at WGBH. NCAM is "dedicated to achieving media access equality for people with disabilities", so they're pretty cool.

Who cares?

"What's 3 minutes? Only a select group of people will see - or express interest in - this short video." In that "select" group of people, you will find some who have some kind of hearing issue. They can be hard-of-hearing. They can be watching your video on a device where they cannot use the speakers, or where they may not want to use the speakers at the moment. If you are excited about your video, ensure that everyone can enjoy it. There might even be members who are - gasp! - deaf. Here's a beautiful quote from Eric Stoller in a blog post on Vimeo and closed captioning.
Communities care about all of their members … not just the ones that can hear.
Let's show some STC community love. Go forth and study the details of the STC 2012 Summit video contest, but make yours the real winner with captions!

PS Super Bonus

So captioning was too easy for you? Here's a bonus. Try audio description. It's pretty amazing to hear that in action. Think about all the dramatic movies you have seen where the baddies are chasing the goodies, and you are sitting on the edge of your seat. If there is only dramatic music, but no dialog, how is a no-or-low-vision person supposed to follow the action? They listen to movies with audio description. That can really test your script writing skills for a video. How do you tell your visual story in words that are read between dialog segments in the video or movie? If you are curious, the DCMP Audio Description Key can get you started. I wonder how a 3-minute video of highlights from the Summit with no dialog would sound when given an audio description treatment?

Transcribing for Inclusion

I made my first transcription today! Tom Johnson posted his videocast interview with Brenda Huettner from the STC Summit in Dallas last week. I was provoked. I've argued for ages that technical communicators can lead the way in promoting transcriptions and captions (and audio descriptions, too). Here was a technical communication video on the topic of (website) accessibility, and it excluded my hard-of-hearing technical communicator friends and colleagues. It also excluded any hard-of-hearing or deaf passer-by. Update: A close-captioned version of the video is now available on YouTube.

Why Did I Make a Transcription

Tom is well-known in the technical communication community, and I've nudged him about transcribing his many videocasts on his blog. (I'm referred to in the interview, but not by name!) With that visibility, he could be a great ambassador for accessibility practices. He responded by saying I could offer to transcribe his videos. My thought was that all his followers could offer to do just one transcription each. That would spread the load and get the job done. I am too involved in too many projects already, so I honestly couldn't manage a lot of transcriptions. Catch-22. However, Brenda is a friend, another advocate of accessibility practices soon to give birth to a book on the topic, and a perfect subject for a transcription. I transcribed the video!

How Did I Make the Transcription?

It took me 35 minutes to just transcribe the 6 minutes and 51 seconds, and I don't think I am a super (fast) typist. I had two windows open. One was the browser with the video and the other was TextEdit (simple text editor on Mac). My procedure was to play a snippet of the video, press the spacebar on my keyboard to stop it, toggle to TextEdit and type the text I had heard, toggle back to the browser with the video, and press spacebar to start it again. Repeat until finished! I only fixed major fumble-finger typos as I transcribed. I left simple typos for the review pass-through. When i finished the transcription process, I still had the text and video windows side by side. I played the entire video and read my transcript while listening, making edits as I went along (and stopping the video while I did that). I didn't time my editing phase very well - both the re-listen/review and general editing - but it was definitely under 15 minutes. Perhaps I could complete this step more quickly if I used a fancier authoring tool. I was also a bit conscious of the time because I was doing this as a demo of the entire process. I also debated (with myself) how much fixing to do. I wanted to capture the informal tone of the interview, so I left grammar oddities as they were. That threw me with regard to punctuation. I added where a long stream of words might just be a bit much to understand. In other words, I spent some extra time on thinking about a strategy. Another time, I could speed things up, having thought this through. Summary: 50 minutes for almost 7 minutes. 7 minutes typing for 1 minute talking? I know an experienced or a speedy typist could do better. I also know I could take this script and upload it to the YouTube system for captioning. That can be another lesson for another day.

The Transcript of the Brenda Huettner Interview at STC10

In the transcript, TJ stands for Tom Johnson and BH stands for Brenda Huettner. TJ: Hi, this is Tom Johnson at We are at the STC Summit in Dallas, Texas, and I'm talking with Brenda Huettner. She's working on a book if you listened to the other podcast with Dick Hamilton, she's working on a book called "Communicating with Everyone". So she's really an accessibility guru and I am hoping that Brenda can give me some real practical advice for how I can make my website more accessible. I have written text in the form of posts, I have audio podcasts, I have videocasts, I have images. So Brenda let's start with the videocasts. What can I do to make them more accessible to people? BH: I would suggest the first thing to look at is providing a written transcript for people who can't hear. It's a little bit easier than doing captions on the video, but as long as there's a text version then deaf people can still get your content. TJ: So now actually somebody from the Accessibility SIG recommended that I do this as well and YouTube has come out with captioning which might work but in my attempts to use it, it was kind of a little off. Actually a lot off. Ha ha. How do… how do… I imagine a common objection is that people just don't have time to create these transcripts. What's your response to that? BH: Essentially I would say that if you're taking the time to create the content, the video, or whatever you're creating, you are limiting your audience by not providing access to everyone. And if you are happy with half the audience you might otherwise have, that's certainly up to you if it's not a, if it's a site that doesn't come under Federal regulation, but why would you want to limit your output? You're putting it out there to share with all of us. Let's share fully. TJ: OK. So usually when people think oh making your site accessible, when they think about accessibility, they often think oh, there's not that many deaf readers or not that many blind readers, but I was sitting at the table with the other people from Google today, a whole string of them, and they told me that once you do machine transcription of YouTube videos you can then translate them 'cause they have auto-translation as well. So there I can begin to see where yeah that's a lot of people, everybody who doesn't speak English basically who I'm excluding, but the transcription I'm guessing is gonna be kind of poor. Do you think a poor transcription is better than no transcription? BH: I suspect that you're gonna get a different answer to that one from everyone you ask but I would rather see a poor transcription than none. It's sort of like if I'm working and I suddenly get a piece of text I need in a language I'm not that familiar with but I really want to know what it is, I can go to one of the inexpensive online free translations and I get close enough so that I can determine if I need to pursue it further. A transcription of any kind will at least give people the idea of what your content is if they want to then pursue other mechanisms. There are automated uh screen reader or what have you that might give them more options. TJ: So talking about transcription let's move into the written text part. BH: OK. TJ: So my text on my site isn't that large. I think it's 12 pixels or something. What's a good size font for improving readability? BH: I would say that you don't want to set a head font. You want to allow the viewer your audience to make the font whatever is comfortable for them. So you use relative sizes and you allow the people to use their own software to make it as big as they need to make it. Different people will have different needs. TJ: So when you say use relative sizes are you saying rather than using font size equals 12 px you use like 1.1 dot em. Is it em versus the px? BH: It's typically if you say it's plus one which means one bigger than default or plus three if it's a heading. TJ: So is it better to just put, I've seen the font plus and minus buttons on sites but it seems like that requires more work from the reader. Why not just put it in 14pt font. That's a little bigger. 14. Anyway, a little bigger or do you think it's just better to add the control or do both? BH: I would say allow your users to change it to however is going to work for them. Different people will have different needs and someone who can read a 14 would be happy with that, but somebody else might need an 18 and you're not going to be able to set one number that works for everybody. So let them choose. TJ: So let's talk about one last thing. Images. BH: OK. TJ: People who don't read images or don't see images well would probably need alt text but uh are there any other advantages to doing alt text besides improving readability? I've heard that it increases your SEO your search engine optimization as well? BH: That's true. The alt tag becomes part of what your search engines can find. The problem is that if you're just using alt tags for SEO, you're not describing the photo enough for the people for whom it ought to be why you're giving the alt tag. You want your graphics to be very descriptive. The other thing I'd like to add about graphics is to be really careful of colorblind, red and green and there are several others, 'cause that does throw people off who might not otherwise even complain about it. They just look and see a grey square. TJ: Alright Brenda. Thanks. If people want to know more about you, do you have a website you want to point them to? BH: Actually I would love it if people looked at my Twitter page. I'm at and that's my primary output at this time. TJ: Alright Brenda. Thanks for talking with me. BH: Thanks, Tom. End of transcript.

Deaf Students in High-Tech Summer Program

A computer-science summer academy at University of Washington introduces deaf and hard-of-hearing students to high-tech careers. Seeing few deaf academics and almost no deaf people earning doctorates, UW computer-science professor Richard Ladner, a son of deaf parents, started the program with National Science Foundation funding. In its third year, the nine-week intensive program recruits ten outstanding 16-to-22-year-old math and science students from across the U.S. Seattle Times reporter Lynn Thompson says, "For many of the participants, it's their first glimpse inside the high-tech world. For some, it is the first time as students that they have been able to spontaneously talk to their classmates." Participant Josiah Cheslik describes the isolation he felt in high school as the only deaf student. Cheslik hopes to do research into technologies to bridge the gap between the hearing and non-hearing worlds. "He noted that several new technologies, including texting and GPS systems, were first invented for people with disabilities."

If you are in the Seattle area in August, the students' animation projects will be screened publically on the evening of the 21st in the Paul Allen Center for Computer Science and Engineering on the University of Washington campus.

See "Summer program opens high-tech world to deaf students" on the Seattle Times website.

Personal Story: Accessibility in the Workplace

[Editor's note: Here's an anecdote from Lori Gillen, SIG co-manager, that puts accessibility-in-the-workplace in perspective.] We are not accustomed to seeing accessibility in action in the workplace, so I wanted to share a little experience that I had in which assistive technology helped people with disabilities function in the workplace. I attended a meeting at the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind where CART captioning was available for me. For those who are not familiar with this tool, CART stands for Communication Access Realtime Translation. CART reporters are similar to court reporters, transcribing every word in a meeting in real time. Those words are then projected on a large screen in real time. I was the only one at the meeting who requested the CART captioning, so I got to sit alone at a computer monitor while the CART reporter used video-conferencing software remotely with a speaker phone. The man who set up the CART connection was blind. He sat down at the computer keyboard with the monitor off and, yes, it took me a few seconds to figure out why he did not turn the monitor on. He used JAWS (a screen reader) for navigation. The speed of the screen reader's voice was conversational. I've heard that some blind users speed up the voice to where words are unrecognizable to an untrained listener and that is how they skim pages. As the blind man scrolled through the messages in his inbox with the down arrow, the screen reader identified the type of content before the actual content. For example: [down arrow] Address Lori Gillen [down arrow] Address Mary Smith [down arrow] Address John Jones And so forth. He didn't actually open a message, so I was not able to hear how the screen reader handled that, but I assume that both the screen reader and user had a way to skip over the message header (To, From, Subject) and get right to the message, where the content was prefaced by the word "Message." Also present at the meeting were two sign language interpreters. It was like being at Disneyland, well, sort of. The meeting I attended was an Assistive Technology Advisory Council meeting for MassMATCH, which enables consumers in New England to purchase affordable assistive technology and match consumers to new or refurbished products. Guest author: Lori Gillen

Age 50+ Persona for the STC Body of Knowledge

Guest author: Lori Gillen I was asked to prepare a persona on what users over the age of 50 may need to maximize their use of the STC Body of Knowledge portal. The Society for Technical Communication (STC) is currently developing a Body of Knowledge (BoK) portal where Technical Communicators can share their areas of expertise with each other. This portal will enable technical communicators to research specific areas of expertise, such as usability or content management. They will be able to obtain answers to their questions regarding professional development, education and training, and new techniques and technologies. The amount of expertise that they will be able to obtain from this portal is vast. In addition, the Body of Knowledge portal will encompass the entire scope of disciplines that use technical communication, adding value to our profession and showing professionals in other areas of the corporate world that technical communicators accomplish more than just writing. I presented a draft on the AccessAbility SIG discussion list and received some excellent feedback. The text that follows is the actual persona that I presented to the Body of Knowledge Committee.

The Age 50+ Persona

Margy Statler
  • Technical communicator, 16 years
  • 59-years-old, married
  • Bachelor of arts degree, Wellesley College; masters technical and professional writing, Northeastern University
  • Human Factors in Informational Design masters program candidate at Bentley College
  • Senior member of the STC
Margy is a principal technical writer for a healthcare company, and has been an employee there for the past ten years. She is an experienced writer who mentors the less seasoned writers in her department. Her documentation and training department is set up so that members offer their area of expertise to the other department members. To that effort, Margy is enrolled in a Masters program in Human Factors in Informational Design and offers her usability expertise to other members of her group. Margy loves outdoor sports - biking (mountain and road), hiking, kayaking, skiing, and running. She said that riding motorcycles is fun but doesn't provide much exercise. Her bookmarked sites include Google for searching, REI - Outlet (outdoor clothing), weather, MapQuest Music, and Wikipedia. With age, Margy's eyesight is changing and she has trouble reading words on the monitor clearly. To accommodate she sets her default browser font larger and for sites that do not inherit the larger size she uses a magnifying browser plug-in with Firefox. Additional accommodations are bulleted in the section that describes her work environment. Her study partner is hearing impaired and has special accommodations concerning her own computer use. Key Attributes
  • Sixteen years of technical communication experience with ten years at her current company.
  • In-depth knowledge of company products and product history from working on initial and update releases
  • Skill at using Help authoring and publishing tools to produce deliverables
  • Special focus on usability and human factors
Work Environment and Accommodations
  • Listens to music to help her focus on work, because area around her cubicle is noisy and she is easily distracted.
  • Uses widescreen desktop monitor because it's easier to see what's on the screen. In addition, she makes the screen as bright as possible.
  • Prefers to print out content rather than read it on a computer to reduce eye and neck strain.
  • Sends mail using a larger font size (bumps it up around 125%) and bolds items for easier reading.
  • Resets her default font to sans-serif because she finds it hard to read content that is written with a serif font.
  • Turns on captioning when watching online videos to accommodate her study partner's hearing loss.
  • Uses RoboHelp to develop Help files, and is now transitioning to MadCap Flare.
  • Uses Adobe FrameMaker and Acrobat to produce printed documentation.
  • Reads books and articles on usability for class assignments.
  • Conducts usability testing and studies usability and accessibility design practices for school.
Informational Needs/Goals
  • Wants information on trends in the technical communication industry.
  • Wants to know about new tools for streamlining her workflow.
  • Needs to research designing for accessibility for a class assignment.
  • Wants to network with other technical communication and usability professionals.
  • Wants to find accommodations for her husband, also a technical writer, whose fingers tire easily from typing because they are numb from Diabetes
Scenario of Use: Margy Statler
  1. Margy is familiar with STC and naturally turns there first to seek information.
  2. First she looks around the site for any information about usability. The Google search on the site displays results about Usability presentations. [Please note that searching on outside of the STC site produces more direct results on the Usability SIG, eliminating Step 3 below]
  3. She locates the SIG groups after mousing over the whole group of drop-down menus. She sees a link to "AccessAbility" and "Usability and User Experience."
  4. She explores the AccessAbility site to find information to accommodate her eyesight, and her husband's Diabetes. Then she visits the Usability and User Experience SIG site to see if there is any information that can help her with her studies.
Guest author: Lori Gillen