Deaf people can participate in citizen journalism through written language tools. Given this, why do I believe that using American Sign Language videos are an essential tool to provide them access to journalism? For those who are confronted by the ‘digital divide’ there are often seemingly hidden elements that cause their lack of access.
With any technology or system, there are built-in usability assumptions, including those that are taken for granted so much that they are not even acknowledged. For deaf people, most digital technology remains accessible to them as sound is rarely used as a primary interface element. Yet they still have issues with technology. This harkens back to one often unacknowledged element for access – language.
Computer users require both conversational literacy and technology literacy. Without such, the mere use of a computer is confusing and daunting. While modern computers do have an astonishing number of language modes, not all languages are covered. Nor does this help when the text is on an un-translated website.
Thus those who use English as a second language, the barrier is in attempting to grasp first the language, then the technological meaning behind the language, and then finally the technology itself. All that needs to be done before even attempting to peruse and comprehend information presented in a secondary language.
For such secondary language users, one good solution is as simple as providing them with information in their own primary language. This does not only provide the benefit of increasing comprehension, but the simple fact that it exists removes the perceived barrier. Using a person’s primary language also increases comfort and sense of connection towards the material. This is especially true when considering languages that are poorly served otherwise. The lack of primary language material often increases its personal importance to the user.
Deaf people can be considered part of this group of secondary language users, but their inclusion is oddly expressed. Most Deaf Americans have grown up with exposure to English, but this is a limited exposure. By definition an auditory system is restrictive towards those who do not have full access to it. And written English does not provide the same level of exposure to the language as the constant conversational interactions expressed in speech. This, combined with educational system that was historically poor in confronting their language barriers, has kept a significant percentage of Deaf people using English as an incompletely understood secondary language.
The same solution of providing primary language use should also work for Deaf people. Yet there is an additional problem in that the primary language of American Sign Language has no written equivalent. It is solely a visual language, which means providing communication in this language requires video. A task that is more complex than providing alternative language access within the same medium of writing. This is the challenge I wish to confront. Can it truly be possible to provide the same level of participation and access that citizen journalism entails within the medium of video? Even more critically, can this access be provided when there already exist barriers to using these tools?