The Quiet Musings

Inclusive Design and Deafness

- September 25th, 2018 -

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): https://www.allesoversport.nl/artikel/feiten-en-cijfers-over-het-aantal-mensen-met-een-beperking/

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.

  • Caption for video and spoken sounds and/or provide transcripts for podcasts.
  • Provide (colored) light when using sound to give an alert or action. (E.g. public transport check- in and -out terminals.)
  • Make screens readable with good use of colors, e.g, red for warning, yellow for notice, green for good, etc. (E.g. public transport check- in and -out terminals.)
  • Don’t require a phone number unless you provide text and/or WhatsApp service.
  • Don’t be available only by phone, provide email, WhatsApp and/or live chat.
  • Provide a ‘Comments’ text field so people can indicate for example if they are deaf and prefer to not communicate by phone.
  • Avoid the use of a donotreply@yourdomain.com email. Especially with important emails.
  • Make sure your digital form/database takes into account if a client is deaf, blind, uses a wheelchair, etc. This way people can keep track and not make mistakes with their clients. E.g. a doctor office or hospital must be able to register such things with general patient information. (I know for a fact those systems don’t make that possible.)
    • I’ve been informed that the new privacy laws make this difficult. As long as this is an optional field filled in per request of the client it should not be a problem. I rather have they register I’m deaf than get phone calls I can’t do anything with. We shouldn’t use GDPR laws as an easy way out of being inclusive.
  • When organizing a congress, provide live captions. They are not only useful for deaf and HoH people. But also for hearing people who might have missed something or are not fluid at the language being spoken. Reading it at their pace helps.
    • In the Netherlands, there is only a handful of text transcribers that can transcribe in English for me. It has happened that I had to miss a congress last minute because the transcriber was sick. Also going to congresses abroad is not really viable for me. I would have to pay myself for the plane ticket, hotel, etc. for the transcriber. Imagine if all congresses had live transcription as a standard. I would be able just like everybody else, to decide last minute if I want to attend, what I want to attend and where I want to go to attend. That is being deaf 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.

What being deaf means to me

- November 20th, 2017 -

I noticed there is a lot of misunderstanding when I tell someone I’m deaf. Most people don’t grasp what it means. They assume I’m just hard of hearing. I think the confusion stems from language use. A lot of people who are hard of hearing say they are deaf. People wearing hearing aids say they are deaf and don’t say they are hard of hearing.

There are also many degrees of hard of hearing. Some people have difficulty with lower tones, others have difficulty with higher tones. Some can use the phone, others can’t. Hearing aids or a CI don’t “cure” ones hearing. They just make it possible for someone to hear a bit better.

In my case, I was probably born with small hearing loss. It was first noticed when I started first grade. By the time I was in high school I started wearing hearing aids.  In college I was wearing the “strongest” hearing aids available at that time. My hearing progressively decreased over the years.

Besides being hard of hearing, I also suffer from tinnitus. I think I always have, I don’t remember ever not having tinnitus. There is always phantom sounds going on in my ear/brain. When I focus on it they seem louder or when I’m stressed, laughing, etc. Any impulse can strengthen the tinnitus.

At 26 I was profound hard of hearing and then I became sick. I was given some heavy meds which killed the little bit of hearing I had left. First my right side hearing “died” and later my left one. Since December 2007 I’m 100% completely deaf. Which means I don’t hear anything at all. Not even with the best hearing aids.

Becoming deaf later in life the way I did is called: late deaf. For most of my early life I went from mild hard of hearing to profound hard of hearing and then deaf. I’m not sudden deaf. That is a term for someone who had good hearing and next they lost it all.

After losing the rest of my hearing I chose not to get a CI. The risks of complications are higher with my medical history. And there aren’t any guarantees how well you can hear after getting a CI.

I’m a loner in the world of hearing and deaf. I grew up hearing and know the pleasure of group conversations, sounds of nature and music. I became late deaf at 26 and know what I’m missing. People who were born deaf have their own community, culture and their main language is sign language. Till today I have yet to meet someone who like me became late deaf. Who can’t hear anything and who don’t wear hearing aids or a CI.

The hearing assume I can get along 100% on lip reading. While lip reading only covers a max of 40% of what’s being said. The deaf and/or hard of hearing expect me to be able to use sign language.

Sign language is hard for me to keep up with. I’m not surrounded by people who sign. It’s like taking up a complete foreign language like Mandarin or Japanese. And only being able to put it to use once or twice a year. You can hardly become fluent like that.

There are sign cafe’s and I’m looking forward to going. But I’m not someone who is into socializing a lot. I’m an introvert at heart. I get drained fast when in a crowd of people. I don’t see myself going every week.

The whole crux of this is — no one deaf of hard of hearing person is the same about their hearing or lack of it. I am an example of that. We should never assume, expect or demand.

If you don’t know something, just ask. I rather someone ask me than assume.

Photo of two people with their smartphone. Text on photo says: Keep calm and type it on your smartphone