Accessible Information and Communication for Persons with Disabilities under the Coronavirus Crisis
Main Guidelines for Public Service Providers
Written by: Or Cohen, Global Ramp Founder
During the past few months, the entire world is confronting global challenges caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. Despite the fact that no one is safe from becoming infected by the virus, for the elderly population and for some persons with disabilities, the risk of being infected increases due to their medical condition, and not less important - for the ability of some individuals, to consume information, with the lacking of accessibility, taken under consideration.
In this current Coronavirus reality, when face-to-face communication is being delivered through a face mask, and different telecommunication platforms are more dominant than ever, the barrier for persons with disabilities and the elderly population, is increasing as well. Especially in these times, when persons with disabilities and the elderly population, can be more vulnerable than the rest, We, as a society, have to ensure that the information being delivered to them, and the healthcare services being provided, are accessible and inclusive to their full extent. For that reason, in this document, you may find some main accessibility guidelines and recommendations in order to ensure accessible information and communication, that leaves no one behind.
Persons who are Deaf or with Hearing Loss
Persons who are deaf or with hearing loss, often face challenges and communication issues, while trying to access different public services and to consume information in an accessible way. Around 10% of the world population, includes the elderly population, is considered as having a significant hearing loss, and approximately 15% of American adults (37.5 million) aged 18 and over report some trouble of hearing. Additionally, approximately one-third of persons over 65 years, are affected by disabling hearing loss. Since the beginning of the Coronavirus crisis, the challenges for consuming accessible information have been rising, due to a higher dependency on accessibility adjustments, using telecommunication means - video chat, webinar systems, websites, and other digital platforms. Here are some guidelines and adjustments can be offered in order to enable accessible communication by public service providers, especially these days:
A. Face-to-face communication - Persons who are deaf or with hearing loss, often use speech reading (by following the person's lips) in face-to-face communication in order to understand what is being said. One of the biggest current challenges, is that along with the anxiety that may follow, while communicating face-to-face in these days, the public service provider or the medical service provider, has to wear a face mask in order to keep oneself and others, safe. Unfortunately, the situation creates an almost impossible gap to breach, for communication between both sides. For that reason, hence, we strongly recommend to also purchase face masks (especially when providing healthcare services) in which the lips are visible and clear. Some current alternatives which can be found on the market are:
1. ClearMask- Long before the Coronavirus Crisis has started, a great initiative named ClearMask ( https://www.theclearmask.com/ ) been launched for enabling a more accessible, inclusive and respectful communication while wearing a face mask.
2. Mehalev (https://mehalev.com/%d7%9e%d7%a1%d7%9b%d7%aa-%d7%a4%d7%a0%d7%99%d7%9d/ ( an Israeli based company that recently started to manufacture a visible lips masks, in a variety of colors.
*Masks as presented are also available for local manufacturing, and can be offered as an accessibility adjustment upon request.
Additionally, please make sure that when required to wear a face mask while communicating with a person who is deaf or with hearing loss, the next guidelines must be taken under
consideration as well:
1. Real time captioning/ transcription upon request (Using a mobile app as 'Live Transcribe' by Google, that works in a variety of languages, and can be very beneficial in some cases).
2. Audio Induction Loop or Personal FM System that enables those using hearing aids, to clearly hear the service provider, without background noises, by switching to T mode in their hearing aids.
3. Sign language interpretation for those who are deaf (according to the spoken language of the person that comes to consume the service).
*In any case we recommend using as possible hand & body
gestures, as well as a writing board for better communication.
A. Public Service Call Center - individuals who are deaf or with hearing loss can often find it hard or impossible to understand what is being said, when reaching an ACD (Automatic Call Distributer). Please make sure that:
1. Instructions are being recorded in a clear human voice, with pauses between sentences, and at a slow pace which can be understandable to all.
2. The maximum actions required for reaching the public service provider, will be as convenient as possible, and in any case two to at most.
3. During the conversation, the service provider can be heard clearly, free of background noises, using an HQ microphone for speaking.
4. That other telecommunication alternatives are provided for those who cannot use the phone at all (further information below).
B. Telecommunication Alternatives- Please see that other accessible telecommunication alternatives are able to accept communication via phone call or ACD, for those with a hearing impairment, hearing loss and the deaf. Those alternatives have to have a reasonable response time, and not longer than any other telecommunication platforms being offered to the general public. Those alternatives may include, among others:
- On-line Chat
- Video Chat
- Chat bot
C. Video Meeting Platforms - For meetings and calls being conducted via a video meeting platform, please make sure to speak as clearly as possible, and at a slow pace, while your lips are revealed, and pleasant lighting. Avoid flashy lights in the room or behind you. Please make sure that you are using an HQ microphone and camera without background noises, and that either CART (Communication Access Real- Time Translation)/closed captions or/and sign language interpretation can be provided upon request. Here are some examples of the way accessibility adjustments can be provided in the common video meeting platforms:
1. Zoom (https://zoom.us/accessibility): In Zoom there are 2 ways to share live captions as part of the meeting/webinar. First option is that the person conducting the captioning, will provide the live captions remotely, using Google Docs, and the host will share the screen for all participants. Second & preferred option, is to enable permission by the host conducting the live captions, using the internal Zoom closed captions feature. Using this option will present the captions as part of the main screen of the presentation/Zoom screen, when the user will press the closed captions button. Regarding sign language interpretation, the host can permit a second video window (spotlight function), that will enable to see the Interpreter alongside the main window and the main speaker.
2. Microsoft Teams (www.Products.office.com/en-us/microsoft-teams): In Microsoft Teams there's an option to provide real-time captions, based on a built-in feature, which can be found today in several Office 365 products as Power Point. It is important to know that live captions are a preview feature in Microsoft Teams, and they're only available in English (US) and on the Teams desktop app for now. Here too, there's an option to add a second video window, that will enable to see the SL Interpreter in the main window.
3. Google Hangouts https://support.google.com/meet/answer/9300310?co=GENIE.Platform%3DDesktop&hl=en): In Google Hangouts you can turn on automatic captions. This feature is available only in English at the moment, and if you record the meeting, please notice that the captions will not appear in the recording.
4. Skype (https://support.skype.com/en/faq/FA34877/how-do-i-turn-live-captions-subtitles-on-during-a-skype-call): On Skype, a user can activate real-time captions and subtitle features (Automatic captions, are not always 100% accurate) that is available on Skype version 8 on Android (6.0+), Android tablet, iPhone, iPad, Linux, Mac, Windows and Skype for Windows 10 (version 14).
5. Some Third Party vendors who provides automatic live captions for the different platforms:
- Verbit (https://verbit.ai)
- Vitac (https://www.vitac.com)
- ACS (https://www.acscaptions.com)
D. Websites, Apps, On-line Videos & Audio Accessibility- A large body of significant information regarding the coronavirus pandemic, is being delivered by public service providers and the media, is transmitted via the internet or mobile apps. Please make sure that the content you publish is accessible for those who are deaf or with hearing loss, by keeping the following steps:
1. Providing transcripts and captions whenever sound appears, include recorded videos, live streaming, audio broadcasts and any other digital platform.
2. Providing sign language interpretation, especially in cases of live content.
One of the platforms that enables accessibility adjustments in live video broadcasts is Facebook Live (https://www.facebook.com/facebookmedia/blog/enabling-closed-captions-on-facebook-live-broadcasts). Since 2017 Facebook Live can also support the display of closed captions on Facebook Live broadcasts. With this update, publishers are using the Live API add CEA-608 standard closed captions to the live broadcasts. Those who don't create their own live closed captions via a CEA-608 data stream, can work with third party captioning companies, as Stream Yard App. On Facebook Live as well, there's a possibility to add a second video window, that will enable to see the SL interpreter in the main window.
*For additional information regarding web accessibility guidelines for does who are deaf or
with hearing loss please go to the W3C Web Accessibility Guidelines:
E. Television Broadcasts- In many places around the world, television broadcasting still remains one of the main media channels for delivering significant information regarding the Coronavirus pandemic. As a public service provider, you must ensure that this information is being delivered in an accessible way, for those who are deaf or with hearing loss. Thus, public service announcements, television interviews, or news broadcasts have to be accompanied by captions and a sign language interpreter in the spoken language.
*Further information can be found here: https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Digital-Inclusion/Persons-with-Disabilities/Documents/Making_TV_Accessible-English.pdf
Persons with Cognitive Disabilities
The term 'Cognitive Disability' refers to a broad range of conditions, and may include persons with intellectual disabilities, autism, mental health disabilities, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), dementia and etc. Persons with cognitive disabilities, may experience major challenges in their ability to receive, to process and to produce information successfully (especially those with intellectual disabilities), with the lack of accessibility adjustments. When that meets information regarding healthcare, as in the coronavirus crisis, the importance of making information and communication accessible for this population becomes crucial. Here are some guidelines and adjustments which can be suggested for persons with cognitive disabilities, in order to enable accessible communication by the public service providers:
A. Face to face communication- Persons with cognitive disabilities may face a stronger feeling of anxiety than usual (especially those with mental disabilities, however, not only), greater challenges while waiting in line or for a meeting (For example: A medical test or examination), or processing information that is not delivered in a simple and understandable way. Additionally, the challenge goes both ways (both for the service provider, and the service consumer), due to the fact that cognitive disability is unseen (accept minor cases), and the lack of awareness regarding the specific needs of this population. In case that the disability is known to you (for example: if the person shares with the service provider, that he or she have a cognitive disability) please make sure to keep the following:
1. To provide the person in advance detailed but simple information, regarding the different steps involve with the service procedure (Where, how, different steps, estimated time, etc.)
2. To enable the person to wait for his/her turn, in the shortest time possible, and to enable if possible to set a specific time for his/ her turn in advance.
3. To speak in simple and understandable language, yet in a respectful way, and not as speaking to a child.
4. In case the person is accompanied by someone, make sure you are always speaking to the person, and not to the person accompanying him/her.
5. Be patient, give sufficient time to the meeting, and ensure understanding in a respectful way, especially when it comes to legal or medical language (For example: “Was I clear enough? Would you like me to repeat the information given?").
6. Listen to what the person said, rather than how it was said.
7. In case the service consumer is a person with intellectual disabilities, or with reduced cognitive abilities (for example, some of the elderly population may face reduced cognitive abilities due to aging), make maximum efforts to provide written information that is either in plain language or in an easy-to-read language (see further information below).
8. If a face mask is needed, we strongly recommend also purchasing (as mentioned above, under persons with hearing loss) face masks in which the lips are visible and clear, in order to provide confidence, sympathy and trust towards the consumer.
B. Linguistic Accessibility- For those with cognitive disabilities, and more strongly for those with intellectual disabilities, accessible written or spoken information is crucial, especially now when public service announcements regarding the crisis are being delivered frequently. The process of making language accessible for those with intellectual disabilities, is called language simplification, and is performed on two main levels - plain language that is beneficial for all (for example: for the elderly population that is more exposed now to the risks of the Coronavirus) and easy-to-read language that is customized for persons with intellectual disabilities. The two might be escorted with icons, symbols, or images in a logical order that would make the information more understandable for all, and especially for those with intellectual disabilities, the elderly population, and individuals who are foreign language speakers.
* Some great examples of language simplification of information concerning the Coronavirus crisis can be found in the Israeli Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities website:
*Further information regarding the process of linguistic simplification can be found here: https://adaptit.co.il/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Making-language-accessible-for-people.pdf
C. Television Broadcasts- Television broadcasts, and especially the news, can also be accessible for persons with intellectual disabilities, via using audio simplification that addresses the information being delivered while broadcasting. Since the Coronavirus crisis has started, the Israeli evening news broadcast is followed by an audio simplification for those with intellectual disabilities, promoted by the Israeli Center for Cognitive Accessibility (https://adaptit.co.il/).
D. Web Accessibility- As mentioned above, a crucial part of significant information regarding the Coronavirus pandemic is being delivered by public service providers, and the media is transmitted via the internet or mobile apps. Please make sure that this content is also accessible and understandable for those with cognitive disabilities, and especially for those with intellectual disabilities.
*For additional information regarding web accessibility guidelines for does with cognitive
disabilities please go to the W3C Guidelines: https://www.w3.org/WAI/cognitive/
Persons who are Blind or Visually Impaired
According to the WHO (World Health Organization) around 1 billion persons globally, have moderate or severe distance vision impairment or blindness. For those persons, without the right accessibility adjustments and the proper assistive technologies, information access is denied. As a public service provider, especially these days, you must ensure free access to all the information being published regarding the crisis. Here are some guidelines for ensuring an accessible information and communication for those who are blind or visually impaired:
Face to face communication- As a public service provider wishes to assist a person who is blind, or is visually impaired, always keep in mind that you are the eyes of the person. That means your actions, the information being given, and the surroundings have to be fully described, as to the things that are important for the person to know. Here are some key rules for accessible communication with persons who are blind or visually impaired in face to face communication:
1. When approaching the person for the first time, make sure to introduce yourself, and your title.
2. In case you think the person needs assistance or any escort, make sure you are asking the person if he/she wishes to get any assistance at all. In case the person is responds positively ask them, what will be the most convenient way for him/her (some would prefer to hold you by the elbow, others will prefer putting their hand on your shoulder, and some would just prefer following your voice).
3. Please take into consideration, that in this time of the Coronavirus pandemic most persons will prefer to avoid any contact. For that reason, it is even more important to make sure you provide as an elaborate visual description of the surroundings and space as you can, and notify or remove any obstacles around.
4. Make sure you describe any moves made by you towards the person and your location if needed. For example: "I'm placing the form for you to sign on the table in front of you, at your 12 o'clock” (persons who are visually impaired or blind use clock figures for directions).
5. Offer the person help with reading written text, and signage if needed.
6. Avoid moving or touching the person’s belongings without their permission (moving the persons walking cane, or bag).
Please take in consideration, that in this time of the Coronavirus pandemic most persons will prefer to avoid any contact. For that reason, it is even more important to make you provide as
Digital Content (Websites, Apps, Videos Accessibility)- Persons who are blind or visually impaired, can easily access any digital information platform, as long as it is an accessible one, using text to speech software as Jaws or NVDA. In addition, they can consume video content fully, as long as it’s followed by AD (Audio Description). As a public service provider, especially these days, you must ensure that your digital content is accessible also for those who are blind or visually impaired.
*For additional information regarding Web Accessibility and Digital Accessibility Guidelines for does who are blind or visually impaired please go to the W3C Web Accessibility Guidelines: https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/
Persons with Reduced Mobility
For persons with reduced mobility, the biggest challenge in consuming information is in cases which web and mobile content is not being delivered in an accessible way. Please ensure that your digital content is also accessible for those with reduced mobility. For additional information please go to the W3C Web Accessibility Guidelines regarding mobility: https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/mobile/
Access Israel NGO (https://www.aisrael.org/eng)
G3ICT & ITU- "Making Television Accessible" (https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Digital-Inclusion/Persons-with-Disabilities/Documents/Making_TV_Accessible-English.pdf)
Global Ramp (https://www.global-ramp.com/)
Ido Granot (https://idogranot.wordpress.com/ )
Israeli Commission for Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities (https://www.gov.il/en/Departments/moj_disability_rights)
The Israeli Center for Cognitive Accessibility (https://adaptit.co.il/)
Uziel-Kral, Sigal and Michal Tenne-Rinde. "Making language accessible for people with cognitive disabilities: Intellectual disability as a test case". De Gruyter (https://adaptit.co.il/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Making-language-accessible-for-people.pdf)
W3C- Web Accessibility Initiative (https://www.w3.org/WAI/)