- Alexis Ander Kashar
Founder’s Favorite Products Series: My Top Picks for Deaf-Friendly Tech
Updated: Mar 24, 2021
RoseBYANDER is a Deaf-owned business. I was born Deaf into a multigenerational Deaf family. My parents are successful Deaf entrepreneurs and owners of the assistive technology company Krown Manufacturing. Luckily, tech accessibility products have always been part of my life. If you’re a hearing person, have you ever wondered how a Deaf person wakes up in the morning? How do Deaf people know when someone’s at the front door? What about when we’re talking to someone with face masks on due to the COVID-19 Pandemic -- how do we know what someone is saying when they’re not using ASL? Today, I’m sharing a list of my favorite everyday technology products that I utilize as a Deaf person that make my life easier and more accessible -- both to raise awareness and to answer some of those burning questions some of you may be afraid to ask!
Deaf-Friendly Alarm Clock
My day always starts with my alarm clock (when it’s not my dog waking me up). I’ve had the same one for over 15 years from my parents’ company, Krown Manufacturing. It vibrates and offers light flashing options to wake me up without relying on sound.
It's also connected to other sensors in the house such as my doorbell! One of the most popular and new clocks offered by Krown Manufacturing is the Visual VibeAlert™ Alarm Clock with Bed Shaker. This alarm clock is super Deaf-friendly, has the ability to charge your smart devices, and is very compact for the traveler as well. It’s also very popular with college students who use the vibration option to wake them up without disturbing their roommates!
The “Make It Big” App
The ‘Make It Big (also known as “Big”) app is a life-saver in this pandemic. This app allows me to type out anything for communication purposes in very large fonts with an easy-on-the-eyes background. The app also saves messages that you can pull up to reuse like a daily coffee order. The staff at Starbucks have become very accustomed to communicating with me this way, and I sometimes use this when I pick up my coffee via a drive-through. (More on that subject in another blog.)
Another type of app that comes in handy for short exchanges is speech-to-text. When interacting with individuals who are wearing masks, this can be somewhat helpful if the environment is appropriate for this purpose, relatively quiet, and only one person is speaking at a time (a tall order, I know.) Don’t feel like downloading an app but have an iPhone? You can try to use Siri using your voice, and she will translate your speech to text. There are many different apps available for this purpose, some better than others.
Captioning is something most Deaf and hard of hearing people rely on for all non-human communication such as television, videos, and video chat platforms. There are a few challenges, the first of which is the reliability of captions. The most reliable captions are usually those that are done by humans with a high level of review. Those are usually of the highest quality and are what you see on most network television shows and movies. Captions in this setting are reviewed by people before they’re baked into the technology and include correct grammar and punctuation.
On the other hand, auto-captioning is used by some networks for news and other platforms such as video chat platforms and is often of lower quality. Such captioning is not “human-reviewed” before it goes live, and it often fails to include accurate words, punctuation, and grammar, all of which can make a big difference in what is communicated. The example below highlights a common problem presented by the lack of grammar and punctuation.
During the pandemic, as video chat platforms have become the new standard for meetings, a paradox has emerged: Deaf people now have more communication access than ever, but that access is unreliable and can cause serious communication issues. Never before has access been so widely available for people like me who rely heavily on technology, and it’s nice to have so many people communicating in “captionable” ways, but at the same time, captioning used among video chat platforms exhibit various levels of captioning quality and are not always reliable. Further, most platforms censor words that may be considered offensive, and this puts the person who relies on captioning at a big disadvantage when we are barred from knowing the choice of words of other speakers. A more in-depth discussion on this subject can be found in our recent article on video chat censorship.
Did you know that 85% of Facebook users don’t use sound at all when scrolling their feeds? You would think that social media platforms would prioritize having great, high-quality captions for Deaf and hearing people alike given these staggering numbers. Yet, many platforms continue to be inaccessible to both people who rely on captioning and those that prefer it. Some platforms don’t even offer the option of captions, placing an undue burden on content creators to make their videos accessible with high-quality captions. This is a time-consuming endeavor and some creators lack the technical skills to add captions, so many do not take this additional step. I look forward to the day when captioning, as a functionality, receives the same rigor as functionalities designed for hearing people like great sound quality.
Overall, technology has come a long way in the last decade to make the world more accessible than ever. Stay tuned as we start our ongoing series naming our favorite high and low-tech Deaf-friendly products.