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New guidelines for improving communication access


Date: 29 June 2021

CoEDL is proud to release a set of guidelines for improving communication access for deaf and hard of hearing people. Research Affiliate Gabrielle Hodge and Data Manager Julia Miller developed the guidelines, which include a workflow for integrating captioning and/or sign language interpreting into meetings, workshops, presentations, and other events. They are easy to implement both within the CoEDL community and beyond.

“Deaf and hard of hearing people have historically been marginalised in academia, and deaf signing people even more so,” Gab explains in her introduction to the guidelines. “It is very difficult to request, organise, and facilitate effective communication access if you need to use captions and/or a sign language…. Sometimes access is provided, but only after a long and unnecessary battle.”

Fortunately, perhaps now more than ever with the shift to digital delivery, it is increasingly easy to make lectures, workshops, and other events accessible for deaf and hard of hearing people. The guidelines detail several options for captioning video presentations either during or after the event, as well as tips for organising and working with sign language interpreters and improving communication access at any and all events.

Already, members of the CoEDL community have applied the guidelines to their work. CoEDL CI Caroline Jones captioned the language tech careers event in May 2021 and found the process simple and effective.

“These guidelines are really helpful and make it easy to create captions on our videos to support a range of viewers,” she said.

The guide also provides tips for improving communication access that are broadly relevant to everyone and worthy of implementation. Having a good microphone, speaking clearly, limiting background noise, and taking turns and avoiding speaking over each other in presentations with multiple speakers will increase the quality of communication for all participants, as well as making it easier to integrate captioning and/or sign language interpreting.

It is equally important to maintain good practices for facilitating discussion with the audience, particularly for those who rely on captions and/or sign language interpreters. Deaf and hard of hearing participants may be excluded from discussions if the delays between speaking and captioning are not accommodated, if options to submit text questions and comments are not being closely monitored and integrated into the session, or if deaf and hard of hearing participants who prefer to sign are unable to do so because there are no interpreters.

Gab also highlights the compounding effects of interconnecting systems of oppression and the need to include deaf and hard of hearing people who also belong to other historically underrepresented groups in academia, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Indigenous deaf and hard of hearing people bring unique insight that will be lost if we do not carry through on direct actions and commitments — like implementing these guidelines — to make our events more accessible and inclusive.

“As academics committed to equitable and democratic scholarship, we need to consider the impact that various institutional practices and norms can have on different people who want to participate,” she says in the guide.

For more information on how to improve communication access in your next meeting, workshop, presentation or other event, read the guidelines.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University