Auditory Disabilities

Auditory disabilities range from mild or moderate hearing impairment in one or both ears (“hard of hearing”) to substantial and uncorrectable impairment of hearing in both ears (“deafness”).

People with hearing disabilities may use hearing aids or not, may know sign language as their first language (or not), and may or may not struggle with written English.

Examples of disabilities

  • Hard of Hearing – people who have mild to moderate hearing loss in one or both ears
  • D/deafness – people who have severe hearing loss in both ears
  • Deafblindness – people who have severe hearing loss in addition to moderate to severe vision loss.

Be aware of D/deaf culture

Within the spectrum of people with profound hearing loss, there are groups that have multiple cultural attachments. Some people associate themselves with the hearing community, and generally identify themselves as being “deaf” or “small-D deaf”. Others identify themselves as being part of a specific Deaf culture and community, with a strong Deaf identity, and refer to themselves as being “Deaf” or “big-D Deaf”. They’re often proud to be deaf and don’t see their hearing loss as a disability any more than a person who cannot fly would see themselves as disabled.

Because both ends of the spectrum exist within the realm of the people we need to design for, it’s generally accepted practice to refer to these groups combined as “d/Deaf” (or “D/deaf”). As with any situation where identity is involved, if you’re unsure how to refer to a D/deaf person, ask.

Design considerations

For people with auditory disabilities we need to provide:

  • Transcripts or captions for audio or audio/video content. Because the user may not be a native English speaker, clear language and pictures may be needed in transcripts. Your software should be able to passĀ WCAG 1.2 Time-Based Media
  • The ability to stop, pause, or adjust the volume of audio content
  • Quality audio that’s distinguishable from background noise.

When we build for people who are D/deaf or hard of hearing we need to:

  • Write in plain English
  • Use subtitles or provide transcripts or videos
  • Use a linear, logical layout
  • Break up content with sub-headings, images, and videos
  • Let users ask for their preferred communication support when booking appointments

We need to avoid:

  • Using complicated words or figures of speech
  • Putting content in audio or video only
  • Making complex layouts or menus
  • Making users read long blocks of content
  • Making telephone the only means of contact for users

Working with people who have auditory disabilities

A tweet by Eloise Carpenter during Deaf Awareness Week provides 10 top tips for the workplace.

  1. Get the listener’s attention before you start speaking.
  2. Find a well-lit place to talk, away from noise and distractions.
  3. Be face-to-face with the person you’re talking to.
  4. Don’t cover your mouth with hands or clothing.
  5. Speak clearly but not too slowly.
  6. Exaggerated movements are harder to lipread.
  7. Shouting is uncomfortable for hearing aid users and looks aggressive.
  8. Talk directly to the person, not the interpreter.
  9. Don’t keep repeating things. Say them in a different way.
  10. Make sure that your colleagues are included in conversations — don’t assume they will notice and are choosing not to take part.

Additional Resources


Why I Sign by Carlisle Robinson on Tapas