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Auditory disabilities range from mild or moderate hearing impairments in one or both ears ("hard of hearing"), to substantial and uncorrectable impairment of hearing in both ears ("deafness"). Some people with auditory disabilities can hear sounds but sometimes not sufficiently to understand all speech, especially when there is background noise. This includes people using hearing aids or other approaches to improve the sound.

More about auditory disabilities

More individuals in the United States have hearing impairments than any other type of physical disability. A hearing impairment is any type or degree of auditory impairment while deafness is an inability to use hearing as a means of communication. 

While the rapid increase of multimedia on the Web provides many new opportunities for people with auditory disabilities, it also poses challenges when content is not designed to be accessible. For instance, while video content can be used to communicate information visually, audio content needs to have alternatives, such as transcripts and captions, so that it is accessible for people with auditory disabilities.

To use the Web effectively, people with auditory disabilities need:

  • Transcripts and captions of audio content, including audio-only content and audio tracks in multimedia
  • Media players that display captions and provide options to adjust the text size and colors of captions
  • Options to stop, pause, or adjust the volume of audio content (independently of the system volume)
  • High-quality foreground audio that is clearly distinguishable from any background noise

For some people with auditory disabilities, sign language is the first language and they may not read a written language fluently. Providing important information in sign language and using simpler text that is supplemented by images, graphs, and other illustrations help make web content more understandable to many. However, it is important to remember that not all people with auditory disabilities know sign language.

Examples of auditory disabilities

Hearing loss may be sensorineural, involving an impairment of the auditory nerve; conductive, a defect in the auditory system that interferes with sound reaching the cochlea; or a mixed impairment involving both sensorineural and conductive. Hearing loss is measured in decibels, and may be mild, moderate, or profound. A person who is born with a hearing loss may have language deficiencies and exhibit poor vocabulary and syntax. 

  • Hard of hearing - mild or moderate hearing impairments in one or both ears
  • Deafness - substantial, uncorrectable impairment of hearing in both ears
  • Deaf-blindness - substantial, uncorrectable hearing and visual impairments

Examples of barriers for people with auditory disabilities

  • Audio content, such as videos with voices and sounds, without captions or transcripts
  • Media players that do not display captions and that do not provide volume controls
  • Media players that do not provide options to adjust the text size and colors for captions
  • Web-based services, including web applications, that rely on interaction using voice only
  • Lack of sign language to supplement important information and text that is difficult to read