Today’s digital media world can represent a double-edged sword for people with hearing issues. On one hand, digital media tools can benefit inclusive teaching by improving students’ accessibility to content in learning and training environments. Two examples would be captioning for online videos, and transcripts for podcasts with course content.
However, using digital content in teaching raises accessibility issues that trainers may not even be aware of. Course content needs careful planning to ensure students with hearing (or sight) issues are not left out of the teaching process, or the giving of assignments.
One example is teachers or lecturers who give online video assignments to students. If these videos are not subtitled, students with severe hearing issues may be unable to access the content, or to complete assignments. This scenario shows the need to plan accessibility into lessons as online streaming media infiltrates teaching practice and assessments.
The same principle applies to online videos screened in class time. Students with hearing issues risk missing all video content if captioning is not used. Before TV captioning was available, these students might have been left out of classroom discussions based around videos. With modern digital media tools and advance planning, there’s no need for this to happen.
This issue is being debated in the US, where the “Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009” was introduced to Congress in June. Its key provisions include:
- subtitling for TV-type video posted online (not user-made content)
- captioning display capability on all video programming devices
- activation of online captioning via screen menus & remote controls
Professionally-produced online video content will need captioning or transcripts to meet legal guidelines. TV network programmes reworked for online viewing will similarly have to be captioned.
The best news is that captioning online video content costs significantly less than video production, while adding value to a website’s user experience.
In the education sector, guidelines for teaching with digital media tools need to identify accessibility issues and workarounds if these are required. Sitting through an entire online video with the sound muted, is one way for teachers to understand why students with hearing issues need subtitling.