Above is an YouTube video recording of my talk, Accessibility Through the Eyes of a Deaf Professional, at AngularConnect 2017 in London, U.K. You can also check out my slides.
The video is captioned, but I also posted a full text transcript below with visual description for those who cannot see captions or prefer to skim text. The transcript is a complementary, NOT a replacement to video captions.
Full text transcript with visual description
(Visual description: Slide with AngularConnect 2017 logo and text saying “Returns at 14:10” on a background of space, moon, satellite, alien ship.)
(Visual description: Slide changes to a stage with Ed, a volunteer, in a blue shirt introducing Svetlana as a speaker.)
Ed: “Hello, everybody. Welcome back from lunch. So our next speaker, is the founder of audio accessibility, where she works with the company to make their products and services more accessible. She’s also the author of Sound Is Not Enough, captioning as universal design. To say, she’s going to be signing her presentation and using an interpreter to deliver the sound. Without further ado, we are excited to welcome to the stage, Sveta! [Applause]”
(Visual description: Svetlana in a maroon top, a dark blue denim skirt, and black boots walks on stage to start signing in American Sign Language and being voiced by an ASL interpreter. The slide shows a photo of Tower Bridge with title saying: “Accessibility through the eyes of a deaf professional” and text below: “Svetlana Kouznetsova (Sveta), @svknyc – @audio_a11y – AngularConnect – November 7, 2017 – London, U.K.”)
Svetlana (through an interpreter): “Good afternoon, everyone. As previously said, my name is Sveta. I’ve been speaking at events for many years, all over the United States, but today is my first time presenting internationally. Thank you so much for having me here. I’m very excited to share my story with you. You might be wondering about my name. I’m originally from Russia. My first language is Russian. Back up I know other languages as well. Russian sign language, French, English, and American sign language. I don’t know British Sign Language except for their finger spelling system. Sign languages are not the same throughout the world. Even American Sign Language is completely different than British Sign Language, so I’m using American Sign Language now and using a local interpreter who is also fluent in American Sign Language.
So I would like to talk to you about accessibility. The United States and the UK use different terminology. In the US, we refer to “persons with disabilities” and, in the UK, I’m told that it’s referred to as “disabled people”, but I use both interchangeably.”
(Visual description: Advancing to the next slide showing a picture of lego people and white text on black bar saying “1.3 billion worldwide”)
Svetlana (through the interpreter): “So, in the world, there are 1.3 billion disabled individuals which is also the population of China. This group also represents an annual disposable income of one trillion dollars, so we should think about how much profit it would generate if businesses who cared about people with disabilities and made their products and services and events accessible to everyone. It’s not only the right thing to do but it is also good for business.”
(Visual description: Advancing to the next slide showing a picture of Plato with text saying: “Good people do not need laws to tell them to ability responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.”)
Svetlana (through the interpreter): “Here’s a slide of my favourite quote by Plato. Let me read it for you “Good people do not need laws to tell them to ability responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.” Plato has a good point. Investing in accessibility from the beginning saves much more time and money than the cost of lawsuits. I also personally believe that empathy and understanding are more important than the laws. Even just following the laws don’t guarantee that problems get resolved, or that profits are created. Laws constantly change with changing times and technologies, that people who care about accessibility go above and beyond what the law state.
In America, we have a Federal law that protects persons with a disability, called the American With Disabilities Act – referred to as the ADA. In the United Kingdom, you have a similar law, the Disability Discrimination Act, the DDA. Many people with disabilities don’t know about the laws or what their rights are and the major issue we have are not our disabilities but the lack of accessibility and the frustration with the barriers that have been put up by society that could easily be removed if people actually cared.
So this is why I have been working with businesses on accessibility consulting and disability awareness. In my workshops, I spend a lot of time correcting the many misconceptions about disabled people.
For example, many people think that physical accessibility pertains only to wheelchair users, and that web accessibility only pertains to blind people. The wheelchair icon is frequently used as an accessibility symbol but it is not a proper representation all of the people with their various disabilities. Many of us don’t use wheelchairs. I’m deaf, I can stand, walk, and I can even run! Disabilities can be visible or invisible. You wouldn’t know that I was deaf unless you saw my cochlear implant, or me using sign language or me simply ignoring you.
So now I would like to talk to you about user experience (UX) and accessibility. Part of my job is consulting with organisations on ux and accessibility strategies. They often overlap. Accessibility is everyone’s responsibility, so, for example, I work with developers on how to make code accessible. I work with visual designers on how to improve colour contrast and font readability, with writers and editors on proper image descriptions, and readable content. With media producers and good-quality captions and transcripts and with managers to make sure that accessibility criteria are met at every milestone, and so on. Website accessibility is not a one-time thing to tick off, but rather it’s an ongoing process.”
(Visual description: Advancing to the next slide showing an online form with very low contrast which makes it hard to see.)
Svetlana (through the interpreter): “So let me show you a few examples of why accessibility is universal design. So, we will look at this current slide. It is an example of an online form. It has fields for name, email, phone number, comments, and a submit button.”
Ed: “I can’t read that, Sveta!”
Svetlana (through the interpreter): “Can you not see this? (Visual description: changing the slide to improve contrast.) Is that not better for you? Is that better now? Great. So I did this on purpose. Colour contrast is one of the major problems for accessibility. Many people are colour-blind, so, for example, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is colour-blind, so that must be why their design simply uses blue and white. Now, I may not be colour-blind myself, but low-contrast visuals make it difficult for me to read content, and it does for you too.
Many online forms don’t have proper labels. It affects not only screenreader users but also keyboard users. So, when I’m filling out a form, I prefer to use a keyboard, so this impacts me when I’m forced to use a mouse or attraction pad. Many of you also like to use a keyboard.
Let’s talk about this phone number field. (Visual description: changing the slide to circle phone number field.) I must beg you, please stop making people put in their phone numbers on these forms. Many people don’t like it. I know it, you know it. I know many of you prefer texting rather than voice calling, unless some of you were born before 1950, in which case you probably prefer a rotary phone!”
(Visual description: Advancing to the next slide showing a photo of a phone on fire with text saying: “text messages are 5x more frequent on mobile phones than phone calls”.)
Svetlana (through the interpreter): “Research shows that text messages are five times more frequent on mobile phones than voice phone calls. This is especially popular with the millennials.
Deaf people can’t hear, but we can use many other media. We have email, texting, online chats, and so forth. So I’m not sure why we’re stuck in 2017, stuck in the pre-internet era. I don’t understand. We’re not in the 20th century any more.
Here’s the good news. More and more businesses are switching over to 2017. Some examples of this are my bank and my phone company. When I have a question or a problem, they have an email and a chat system which is great. But not my credit card company. They’re still stuck in the 20th century. They want me to call them or to visit the branch during their limited opening hours. I sometimes have to ask my sister so to call them for me but I should be able to do this myself and not depend on other people to conduct my business. Not all of us like using third-party relay services, either, and many of us do prefer to communicate with businesses directly. The worst part is that there are some organisations that are telling us to use antiquated text telephone technology that most deaf people don’t even own any more, let alone use, and this would be equivalent to a rotary phone also being obsolete.
So research shows that if a phone number is required on an online form, fewer people are likely to fill them out. It doesn’t matter if the person is able to hear or not here, so my advice to you when you’re making a phone field, make it optional, and offer other options and alternatives in terms of contact.
As you know, there’s been many news stories about hacking and identity theft. For example, this situation with Equifax or Yahoo. But it is a serious security issue which is why many organisations ask to verify via the phone, but instead of verifying over the phone with a bunch of security questions, let me make a suggestion: using a webcam, it is like visiting an office in person but online.”
(Visual description: Advancing to the next slide showing a photo of hands holding a mobile device showing an image of an agent on top followed by texts, 3 buttons for voice, text, camera, and an image of a receiver.)
Svetlana (through the interpreter): “Many computers and your mobiles have built-in webcams, unless some of you are still using flip phones. I’m happy to work with you on the solution if your organisation is thinking about implementing something like this.
Now I want to talk to you about accessibility specifically for deaf and hard of hearing individuals – and that’s how we prefer to be referred to, as deaf and hard of hearing, not hearing-impaired. You maybe curious what it’s like to be deaf. It was a scary experience for my family when I became deaf at the age of two from meningitis. They were worried about my future. I was born with the ability to hear – this was a picture of me before I became deaf. (visual description: advancing to a slide showing a black and white photo of myself at age of 2) So nobody in my family is deaf, nor is anybody disabled. 95 per cent of deaf people, like myself, have non-deaf parents, non-deaf family members. Back then, there was a scarcity of good and reliable information about deafness and deaf people, and there was no internet or Google back then.
But I have never let my deafness get in the way of my goals. I guess my stubbornness has helped my along. I have had to work ten times harder than my peers with normal hearing in school where I was the only deaf student because I can’t have any formal communication access services like interpreters or live captions. During my time in Russia, deaf kids were restricted to attend only special schools for the deaf which didn’t provide the same education as their non-deaf peers. I have had to constantly prove my abilities as a deaf individual, and I give my family a lot of credit for supporting me.
But now, I’ve graduated from good universities in the United States, my Masters degree is in Internet Technology. I know five languages. I’m a consultant in user experience and accessibility, and I stand here before you today proudly giving you a presentation. Deafness is not a barrier for me.
So, here we are in 2017, a lot has changed; we have disability laws; hearing aids, cochlear implants, captioning, visual alerts, texting, and so on but we have a long way to go.
One of the biggest hurdles for deaf people is finding employment. Finding a job for a deaf person is challenging because the deaf person has to prove they can communicate with their boss, co-workers, and their customers.
(Visual description: Advancing to the next slide showing a photo of a woman jumping a gap to other side saying “JOBS” with text below saying: “disabled candidates send 60% more job applications than NON-disabled candidates before getting one”.)
Svetlana (through the interpreter): “I recently read an article that, in the United Kingdom, disabled people have to send 60 per cent more applications to jobs than non-disabled people before they’re able to find one. Now, those stats sound very similar to what is happening in the United States, and I’m willing to bet the rested of the world. I have a university education and work experience, so I should sound like I’m qualified. I apply online, and an employer emails me back inviting me for an interview. When they tell me I’m deaf, they either make excuses and either cancel the interview or don’t hire me after the interview has been completed. Many employers avoid hiring even well-qualified candidates with disabilities because they think they’re a burden. If I am employers focused more on a individual’s abilities rather than their disabilities, they may be surprised at how much disabled professionals can bring to the table.
I also get frustrated many times when I want to attend events. I need to attend business events in order to network with people, to find new clients, or to give presentations. When I request interpreting or live captioning to attend these events, many of the organisers deny my request. A lot of times, it is because they just don’t want to pay for it. They often don’t realise that accessibility is a basic human right.
So, for example, there was this event hosted by a Chamber of Commerce that I wanted to attend. I emailed the host to request sign language interpreters, and this is what the female President said: (Visual description: advancing to the next slide with the text.) “We are committed to make our events as accessible to as many members as possible. However, this event is just a networking mixer and will not have a formal presentation. I do not foresee a need for interpreters at this particular event. I do hope you can join us!”.
So maybe you’re shocked to hear this. But this is not the first time I have had to deal with this. I and many other deaf people have been dealing with this type of ignorance for a very long time. Many non-disabled people don’t realise they cannot be the deciders of what we need and what our needs are.
Another issue has to do with quality of accessibility services. Unfortunately, bad interpreters and captioners are commonplace. For example, at one of my job interviews, I was provided a sign language interpreter who ended up asking me to write down what I signed. Now, luckily, I got hired, but I had to explain to the EEO director why she had to replace that interpreter. The director assumed the interpreter was wad use she had had many years of experience, plus she was cheap. You cannot determine how good an interpreter or captioner is if you’re not fluent in sign language or if you don’t understand quality communication access standards.
Many employers, event organisers, and educational institutions are often not aware of disabilities and proper accessibility accommodations. Often, deaf people are not comfortable disclosing their disability because deafness is so stigmatised, or they are just tired of fighting for it. Just because a person doesn’t ask for accommodations doesn’t mean that they don’t need them. Just to note, not all deaf people require the same sort of services because their communication abilities vary greatly. For these reasons, I provide consulting and training on organisations on deafness and awareness around this issue, and how to make their events, classes, and work environments accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing people. I help them with accessibility logistics and good-quality accessible accommodations. Now, I’ve worked with many interpreters and captioners for over 20 years and developed a global network which allows me to help organisations ensure that the local resources they’re using are very good quality.
So, now let me talk about the importance of captions as universal access. In the United States, we refer to this technology as captioning; in the UK, you refer to it as “subtitling”.
I grew up watching television without captions. Imagine how much I must have missed watching TV this way. But, in the eighth grade, my father brought home a box that was called a captioning decoder. He set it up and we were so amazed with the magic that this box performed which made captions pop up on to the television screen. I cannot imagine what my life would be like now without having captions. They’re basically music for my eyes.
So now we can have conversations about Downton Abbey, or Dr Who, or even online video tutorials. I’m sure many of you like captions as well for various reasons. Some of you may be deaf or hard of hearing like myself; some of you may be non-native English speakers; you may have difficulty understanding accents. I have an accented speech you may or may not have been able to understand when I read the slides out earlier. Maybe some of you like to watch your videos muted.
Captioning is a big part of my life. I’m familiar with many types of captioning access, not only because I’m a consumer of the service, but also because I’ve done a lot of research. I’ve written a book, even, and been doing consulting work on this topic. For example, I consult event organisers on live captioning logistics, and I train media creators on quality captioning guidelines. I perform quality check of their captions and transcripts, and if media producers prefer to outsource the work, I can do the same for them. Live captions are not the same as video captions because they have a different set of captioning standards. This is why live captions from an event need to be converted into proper video captions if you’re to have a recorded video.
Now, the live captions at this conference are a great example of universal access for all of you, not only for me, and they can be provided onsite by local captioners, or through the internet by remote captioners.
Good-quality captioning is very important. Don’t turn on the autocaptions for YouTube videos; don’t use speech recognition for formal events such as this one. The live captions that you’re seeing at this event is being provided by a human, not by a robot. Bad captions are not better than no captions, and do not solve the accessibility issues. The more mistakes that captions have, the harder it is to understand the content. However, good captioning is an art that can be done well only by experienced human captioning professionals who follow the quality standards.
Let me give you an example.”
(Visual description: Advancing to the next slide showing a photo of a grandmother doll on left with a jam in middle with text below saying: “lets eat grandma” and “Let’s eat, grandma!”)
Svetlana (through the interpreter): “So, this sentence “Lets eat grandma.” This is confusing: supposed to eat with grandmother or eat other? Let’s make it more clear. And now it is. Punctuation is one of the many important captioning features, guidelines, for deaf consumers at this service. Punctuation provides speech intonation which is important for individuals that can’t hear the speech.
Many online video players still do not have closed captioning support. For example, Twitter doesn’t offer it. Burning captions in videos is not always as effective as uploading a separate caption file to videos. Some videos that do have a closed captioning support are not always easy to use. For example, you cannot create or edit captions in Vimeo. The only way to add captions is by uploading a separate file. If you’re organisation, however, wants to improve your own video player, please do get in touch.”
(Visual description: Advancing to the next slide showing a photo of a group of wood figurines standing away from a single figurine with text on top saying: “DIVERSITY & INCLUSION means NOTHING WITHOUT ACCESSIBILITY”)
Svetlana (through the interpreter): “So, now I would like to wrap up my presentation with this quote: “diversity and inclusion means nothing without accessibility“. Now, there’s a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion lately, which is fantastic. But disabled people often feel excluded from this. We do not feel included and accessible services are not provided. Technology does not resolve all the barriers that we face. Only humans can do so. If society changes their perception on disability and makes the world accessible to everyone, then we can all have equal opportunity, and we can all enjoy our lives and contribute to society alongside one another. Accessibility benefits not only disabled people but all of society.
(Visual description: Advancing to the next and last slide – Title: Thank You! Image: Book on left titled “Sound Is Not Enough” and text on right listing 3 bullets: • Accessibility, UX, PM Consulting Web: svknyc.com, Twitter: @svknyc • Audio Accessibility Consulting Web: audio-accessibility.com, Twitter: @audio_a11y • Sound Is Not Enough: Captioning as Universal Design Web: audio-accessibility.com/book)
Svetlana (through the interpreter): “Thank you for listening to my talk. Accessibility is a very huge topic, and I could talk about it for hours, or even days. If you want to learn more about making your products, services, events accessible, and better to understand persons with disabilities, I provide consulting services, training sessions, workshops, and you can also check out my book. Here are the links. Here are the links for the website. There is the audio accessibility.com for the book.
Last but not least, I would like to us give a round of applause and hand-waving to the organisers for making this event accessible. Because of their consideration of my needs, I’m able to participate fully and enjoy this event, travelling across the Atlantic has been made worth it.
So I believe my time is up, and I imagine you might have some questions for me. Please do find me in the hallway or come to my office hours. I look forward to talking with you. Thank you. [Applause].”
Ed: “Thank you, Sveta, that was great. In five minutes here, we have got Alex talking about advanced Angular concepts, and over in Saturn, a talk on AngularJS to Angular migrations, and web VR chat. That will be in five minutes’ time. Thank you, everyone. [Music].”