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Ensuring web accessibility for the deaf

The signing into law of Republic Act 11106 in 2018 was a milestone for the Deaf community in the country. Foremost, the law recognizes the unique needs of citizens who are deaf and hard of hearing, which is why there is a need to have the Filipino Sign Language (FSL) as the national sign language of the Philippines.

However, in ensuring inclusivity and more opportunities for the Deaf, especially in this digital age, more needs to be done.


A milestone for the Filipino deaf

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by 2050, about 2.5 billion people will have some degree of hearing loss. Of the said number, over 700 million are projected to have disabling hearing loss who will require rehabilitation. 

Here in our country, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) estimates that there were 1,784,690 individuals with hearing difficulty in 2020.

While there are measures that aim to prevent and ensure early intervention of hearing loss, especially among newborns, the FSL law addresses the needs of those who are already living as deaf and hard of hearing.

According to the law, the FSL is the official language to be used in communicating with the Filipino deaf, particularly in the following: the education of the deaf learners from early childhood up to the secondary level; legal interpreting for the Deaf in all public hearings, proceedings, and transactions of the courts, quasi-judicial agencies, and other tribunals; and in the civil service and in all government workplaces where the Filipino deaf are employed.

State hospitals and all health facilities must also ensure access of the Deaf to health services, including the free provision of FSL interpreters and other accessible materials for deaf patients, or individuals who have family members who are deaf.

To ensure access to information and freedom of expression of the Filipino deaf, the law directs the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas (KBP) and the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) to require FSL interpreter insets in news and public affairs programs. It also aims to promote progressive use of FSL in all other broadcasts and programming.


Ensuring web accessibility

The FSL law also guarantees accessibility of the Deaf to digital platforms, as it mandates that all videos published online, including those on social media, must conform to Philippine web accessibility standards.

This is very important because videos have become a popular medium online. It has become a powerful tool to connect with online audience—and in the case of businesses, it provides a creative platform to engage and attract customers.

To make websites and social media pages more accessible for the Deaf, providing closed captions and/or transcripts for videos is a very significant action as this will greatly improve the web experience for those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Equally crucial here is the accuracy of the caption, especially if it’s done using artificial intelligence (AI). While this is the more convenient route to providing captions, there must be human intervention—an editor who must check that the captions are accurate so that any member of the Deaf community who will access such information will understand the message correctly.

With the way technology is rapidly evolving, soon there will be more ways to ensure better web access for the deaf. We only have to keep them and other persons with disabilities in mind when we plan, develop, and operationalize new programs and applications.

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