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Accessibility.Blog

3 Tips for Easier Web Browsing with Hearing Disabilities

March 21, 2019 9:05:00 AM EDT

From breaking news videos to audiobooks, multimedia content is increasingly important to people’s activities online. Cisco projects that by 2021, 80 percent of the world’s internet traffic will be video.

Unfortunately, when that content isn't made to be accessible, much of it could be lost to people with hearing disabilities. 15 percent of U.S. adults report some degree of hearing loss, and roughly 8 million people in the U.S. are functionally deaf or have some difficulty hearing normal conversation. And, even when websites are built to comply with standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), you may still need or want some tips and tricks that you can use while browsing the web.

This article is the second in a five-part series about how users with different disabilities can proactively make their web browsing experience better. Part one: easier web browsing with visual disabilities.

1. Increase the volume

People with conductive hearing loss may hear sounds as faint or muffled, and often have particular difficulty with low frequencies. If you have conductive hearing loss, increasing the volume on your device may help you hear more clearly.

Nearly all computers, smartphones, and tablets come with built-in controls that allow you to regulate the loudness of sounds and music. Computers usually have a pair of keys on the keyboard labeled with a speaker icon that increase and decrease the volume. Meanwhile, mobile devices usually have a pair of adjacent buttons, or one long button, to the side of the device.

You can also manually control the sound volume via your device’s settings:

  • Windows: Click on the Volume icon that appears in the right side of your taskbar to bring up a slider. You can manually adjust the volume by clicking and dragging on the volume indicator.

  • Mac: Click on the Volume icon in your menu bar, and adjust the volume using the slider.

  • iOS: Open the Control Center and swipe from right to left to display the media controls. You can adjust the volume here using the slider at the bottom.

  • Android: Go to Settings > Sound > Volume and adjust the volume using the slider.

2. Use captions and transcripts

Both closed captions and transcripts include written representations of the speech from audio or video content. However, while they’re often mentioned in the same breath, closed captions and transcripts aren’t quite the same thing.

Closed captions are intended to be read while audio or video files are playing, as a supplement to this content. In addition, closed captions often contain information about other sounds than speech, such as noises and music. Transcripts, on the other hand, are separate documents that can be read and understood apart from the audio or video itself (and often include information that appears on-screen).

If you have a hearing disability, you should know your rights when it comes to closed captioning for audio and video online:

  • In 2012, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) required that all TV programs with closed captions must also have captions when published on the Internet.

  • Web accessibility standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) require websites to have closed captions and transcripts for all prerecorded audio and video content. Higher levels of WCAG compliance also require captions for live audio and video content, and even sign language interpretation for prerecorded content.

Transcripts and closed captions are invaluable tools for enjoying audio and video content online. Some websites such as YouTube and Facebook come with built-in functionality for adding closed captions to videos, which you can enable in the video settings.

In other cases, you’ll need to enable closed captions yourself in the media player that you’re using:

  • Windows Media Player: Press the Alt-P command to bring up the Play menu. Select Captions and Subtitles > On if Available.

  • QuickTime: Go to Preferences under the QuickTime Player menu on Mac, or Edit > Preferences > Player Preferences on Windows. Select “Show closed captions when available.”

  • Real Player: Go to Preferences under the Real One Player menu on Mac, or Tools > Preferences on Windows. Now go to to Content > Accessibility, where you’ll see two options for enabling captions and audio descriptions.

3. Watch sign language videos

If you use or understand sign language, some websites offer sign language videos in place of, or in addition to, closed captions and transcripts. The sign language may be displayed automatically within the video, or you may need to enable it in the video settings.

In addition, some websites may offer video remote interpreting technologies. These allow people who are deaf or have hearing difficulty to communicate online in real-time by using a third party as a sign language interpreter.

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