Accessibility measures within organizations and companies of all sizes are bearing more weight as appreciation of its impact grows. Accessibility means different things for different people, but for those who depend on it for equal opportunity, it is vital.

Assistive tools and measures designed for accessibility allow people with disabilities to participate in the world and interact with their fellow human beings. When a system is accessible, it encourages independence. With independence, autonomy can be fully realized.

For the Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities, autonomy to access information and communicate with the hearing world is a basic human right that is often overlooked. Companies, organizations and individuals who fall short on accessibility practices are either negligent or lack knowledge on the matterhence the importance of raising awareness.

Understanding the link between accessibility and autonomy is key to realizing the ways in which we can all build and support a more free and fair world. 

The Meaning of Accessibility

Accessibility refers to the environment and resources dedicated to ensure people with disabilities have equitable experiences. For many in the Deaf community, accessibility opens up a world of opportunities. Plainly speaking, it is the difference between the ability to access something versus not. Accessibility promotes inclusion and equality. 

Text overlay on a blue background that reads "Accessibility is not a checkbox. Accessibility is a mindset that can lead to a very powerful sense of inclusion." Maayan Ziv, Founder & CEO, AccessNOW
Image Source: Twitter @AccessNowApp

Assistive technologies range from no to low tech solutions to high tech solutions such as specialized computer software and hardware that increases mobility, hearing, vision, and communication capacities. Despite accessibility improving across the board, Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals are still confronted with numerous obstacles and barriers in work, social settings and daily living.

Captions for Deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing people

Given the various types of disabilities, accessibility involves making sure that people with all kinds of disabilities can use a product or service. This can include designing products with physical accessibility in mind, such as making sure that a website can be used with a keyboard or a screen reader, or that a building has ramps and elevators for people who use wheelchairs.

However, accessibility is not just about making products and services usable for people with disabilities. It's also about making them more convenient and easier to use for everyone. For example, use of captions is an accessibility tool that serves those who are Deaf and hard-of-hearing as well as hearing people who use such the technological assistance for other reasons. When it comes to captions, speed and accuracy is key. AI technology, Avawhose focus and fundamental function is accessibilitymakes it easy for any organization to be fully accessible for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees and customers.  

Another example of accessibility is providing text alternatives for images on a website as it makes the site more usable for people with visual impairments. It also makes the site more usable for people who are using a slow internet connection or who are trying to access the site on a device with a small screen.

Picture of a laptop with a smartphone sitting on the edge of it. Both phone and computer screen show captions.

Image Source: Ava

ADA: What the Law Says

Although many laws have been enacted to protect people with disabilities, singular interpretation along with consistent reinterpretation is pertinent as technology changes at a rapid pace. The preeminent law that protects the Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law 33 years ago in July of 1990. 

Under the ADA, people who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing are entitled to the same services law enforcement provides for everyone else. No one should be excluded or segregated from services, be denied services, or otherwise be treated differently than others.

The ADA was established with the intent of guaranteeing equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for those who need it. It’s important to celebrate how far we’ve come, while recognizing there’s still work to be done in terms of creating a world that is inclusive. 

Source: YouTube

Equal access goes beyond laws and legislation. It is the difference between having opportunities or being denied opportunities. It is having freedom, being independent, accessing the information and services needed, and being able to live life in the same capacity as others.

Autonomy Defined

Autonomy is the ability of individuals to perform tasks without the need for human intervention or supervision. Autonomy can be particularly important for Deaf people as it can help increase independence and reduce reliance on others for assistance. For example, an autonomous vehicle provides Deaf individuals with a greater level of mobility, allowing them to travel more freely. Similarly, autonomous home assistants enable Deaf people to perform a wide range of tasks, such as controlling household appliances and setting alarms.

Autonomous systems designed with the needs of Deaf people in mind allow efficiency and ease of communication. This may involve incorporating visual or tactile interfaces, or using other methods of communication that are accessible to Deaf individuals such as captions.

As much as ADA laws have been instrumental in making accessibility more prevalent, Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals still strive for accessibility that enhances autonomy and reduces barriers. Though technological solutions available today close many gaps, many platforms still lack in crucial areas that hamper user experience and obstruct autonomy.

3 Ways Autonomy is Hindered Today

  1. Zoom’s video conferencing platform offers captions to make meetings easier, but permission still needs to be requested from admins in order for it to take effect. Additionally, the captions are hard to follow, sometimes causing cognitive overload. Captions may move at a fast pace or be delayed, requiring Deaf individuals to fill in the blanks. 

  2. With video and other digital content, Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities must bank on video creators deciding to caption the content for them. 

  3. While interpreters provide more access than text alone, they still require Deaf individuals to be reliant on a third party.  

With proper support and advocacy, autonomy can flourish. Autonomy is oftentimes considered to be an individual matter, but Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities are part of our wider society and everyone can play a role. 

Deaf Empowerment with Ava Accessibility 

With mobile caption technology, Ava encourages Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals to have a more present voice in group conversations with hearing people. Ava’s Speaker ID feature identifies and separates different speakers within a conversation using an assigned color. This function is helpful when there are more than two speakers in a conversation.

Image of a smartphone illustrating Ava's Speaker ID feature that identifies and color codes different speakers for conversation dialogue.

Image Source: Ava

With 90% accuracy, Ava’s live text-to-speech transcription makes it possible for the user to see who says what in real time. Additionally, to empower users who don’t use their voice, Ava also offers a text-to-speech feature that transcribes speech into text. The technology can be used on iOS, Android, desktop computers and the web.

While other captioning applications are limited by one-way communication, Ava is the a captioning application that makes autonomy possible. It offers a two-way communication tool for hearing, Deaf and hard-of-hearing people. 

Autonomy Means Freedom

Technology continues to make advancements in accessibility, yet still remains a nascent concern for the majority. Creating and building with accessibility in mind opens up a world of opportunities in which to explore paths for better usability and autonomy. Developing technologies that are functional and appropriately accessible allows Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals to fully participate in society.

With true accessibility comes independence and with independence comes autonomy. The ability to be autonomous cultivates freedom and confidence, marginalized or otherwise. Deaf & hard-of-hearing communities working together with hearing people to promote accessibility and autonomy is the way in which progress prevails.

Post by Ava
January 19, 2023

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