Visual media are already integral to how we work, entertain, and communicate. But what if your life was solely dependent on decoding visual information, in a world built by individuals that are hearing? Would there be gaps in design? Oh, you bet there are.
As many educators are aware, the widespread need for inclusive design practice, accessibility (ADA /IDEA) standards, and universal design for learning has been a hot topic at many of our schools. Cross-functional teams and faculty are working together to ensure that there is, at minimum, an awareness to help realize these crucial initiatives. The typical accessibility checklist at organizations in North America focus on simple gains and do not always consider a broad range of users. For instance, there is mounting pressure to create videos that offer closed-captioning. This feature is the minimum that can be done for Deaf, Deafened or Deafblind users—and if a Deaf person were to be honest, captioning (for a variety of reasons) is not Deaf-friendly at all.
Deaf learners are rarely brought into Accessible Design conversations and very little has been asked about their needs as instructors, students, and end-users of software. Even fewer opportunities have been extended to this user group to be included in preliminary design discussions and needs analysis. At best, Deaf users are brought into discussions after designs are near complete and asked to weigh in on aesthetic elements and features. Very little formal research and design standards exist for how Deaf people navigate online spaces, including social media. We knew from faculty, students and members of the community, that Deaf persons are very active online, often first to market. We also knew that young users were very engaged with online gaming, however, formal scholarship about designing software for Deaf learners is not readily available yet.
To try to solve this problem, we built a team to take on a challenge and set a new design standard. Was it possible to create an accessible Deaf-First learning environment? And could we do this in less than a year?