Inclusive Design and Deafness

Everything we use started as a design. A team sat down and came up with the design of the computer, tablet or phone from which you are reading this article. I sat down and came up with the design of this weblog. Someone sat down and came up with the design of the font being used on this weblog. You get the gist.

Most things are designed with one type of user in mind, the one with whom the designers identify most with. Consequently, the product is then not usable for someone else. That ‘someone else’ can be a large group of people that are being excluded and a substantial loss of income if you design a commercial product.  While you always have a target group, even in that target group there is a vast difference between your users.

That is where the term Inclusive Design comes in. Heydon Pickering explains in more details clearly what inclusive design is in What the Heck is Inclusive Design?

In short, inclusive design means designing things for people who aren’t you, in your situation.Heydon Pickering

Deaf and HoH users

As someone who was diagnosed with a hearing impairment in the first grade and got progressively deaf till I lost all my hearing when I was 26. I experienced my whole life how products and environments are not made with Hard of Hearing and deaf people in mind. Even now in 2018 with all the technology at our disposition, it is not being optimally used to improve inclusiveness.

The Netherlands has about 3.756.000* people with a mild case of hearing impairment to completely deaf. Those are the numbers from 2013.

* Source(Dutch):

This and that

A lot of focus is going to blind people, people in a wheelchair or with other, visible disability when thinking about inclusive design. Being deaf is one of the most invisible disabilities. Unless someone tells you they are deaf you won’t know.

Every day I live in a world with obstacles, my oven, washing machine, public transport announcement, the fire alarm at work, just to mention a few. They all rely on sound only to give signals. You know how many times I thought I pressed “On” on my oven, just to realize later that I did not? Or that I forgot that I warmed something in it?

I’m not a fan of smart devices. Most if not all of them rely on sound for signals or actually talking to you. Even my (semi-smart) new washing machine I bought last year. I was told that it plays music when it’s done washing or drying. I had no idea. The manual did not say it plays music when it’s done.

General criteria for deaf inclusiveness

There are several key points to take into account when designing to be deaf inclusive. Of course, every individual project needs to be accessed on how to best be inclusive.

I learned that the best way to educate yourself about people is to talk with people outside your bubble. I might be deaf, but I don’t know how someone who is blind, autistic or in a wheelchair gets about their day and the daily obstacles they encounter. I learned by meeting people and talking to them.

You can’t take every single thing into account when designing a product or website but you can make sure to include the general criteria, have it tested by different people and improve through feedback. That on itself will cover a lot of users with different needs.

If you think your users are not differently abled. Let me tell you this. As a deaf person, if a website, video, podcast, or a product is not inclusive towards me. I don’t email and tell the owners. I move on to one that is inclusive and spend my time and/or money on them.

If you have any comments, addition or so, you can let me know at or through my Twitter @Darice.

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