Inaccessible Technology Woes? Tell it to COAT!

Posted on 19 August 2007. Filed under: Advocacy, Technology |

Deaf people, like you and me, deserve an easy way to turn on the caption decoder on an unfamiliar television set when visting hearing relatives or staying at hotels. And we deserve to use cell phones, whether we’re deaf (and need text or video phone) or hard of hearing (and need phones compatible with hearing aids). And deaf-blind people deserve affordable technologies that allow them to use the phone just like their hearing, sighted peers. “Affordable” here meaning “free” if that’s all a deaf-blind person can afford.

You know that. And I know that. But do the manufacturers of technological devices know that?

If you’ve ever spent 15 minutes struggling to find the caption decoder in the television set at your in-law’s home instead of enjoying your rented DVD, or if you’ve ever been frustrated at the limited range of options available to you for using the phone while on the run, then you know that they don’t. Or if they do, they haven’t a clue that there’s even a problem with the current technology they’re trying to sell to us, much less how to fix it.

There’s a solution. Not a quick-fix solution for our short-term problems, but a long term solution for our long-term problems.

Share your stories of woe with inaccessible technology with COAT — the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology. (Click on “Contact COAT” below the “About COAT” menu in the left bar at www.coataccess.org

No, they won’t come to your hearing relative’s home to help you turn on the caption decoder. And they can’t give you a cell phone that meets your needs as a deaf or hard of hearing person or deaf-blind person. But they can use your story to help fight for better technology for tomorrow. That will help not only you but other Deaf, deaf, hard of hearing, and Deaf-Blind people who face the same accessibility frustrations with technology.

And if you are blind or have blind friends–whether deaf-blind or hearing blind–then, yes, COAT is for you, too. Or for anyone with any disability who has trouble finding accessible modern technology.

In my last blog post, I shared a long rant about some problems I had during my recent vacation (returned home yesterday) in just locating and turning on the caption decoder in two different unfamiliar television sets. Plus I threw in some other (shorter) rants along the way about problems turning on the caption decoder in a hospital television set two years ago (turned out to be impossible) and general difficulties with hotel room television sets, including at hotels where the internal cable system may be actually stripping captions from programs before they reach the TV set. At the end of my rant, I appealed for information on any existing efforts to encourage or implement universal solutions that would require ALL television sets and remote controls to make caption decoders as easy to locate and manipulate as the volume control.

Enter Rosaline Crawford from the United States National Association of the Deaf — one of the organizations affiliated with the newly formed Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology. She shared this comment:

Rosaline Crawford Says:
August 17th, 2007 at 6:49 am
Consumer reports, like yours above, are important. You are not alone. The Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (www.COATaccess.org), which includes the NAD, is advocating for accessible user interfaces. For example, people who are blind need access to on-screen menus and easy access to available video description services. Our user interface efforts include ensuring accessible, obvious, and easy ways to activate closed captions on video programming devices, such as TV equipment, recording and playback devices. Closed captions are as important to people who are deaf or hard of hearing as volume control is to people who are hearing. So, when volume control buttons are on the device or the remote control, there should be a closed caption activation button on the device or the remote control. Further, access features (activation and options) should be on the top tier of any menu, not buried or hard for users to find. Legislation becomes necessary when industry does not take appropriate action. COAT needs consumer reports, like yours, to inform, educate, and advocate for change. To file a consumer report with COAT, go to www.COATaccess.org and click on “Contact COAT.”

Or, just in case you have trouble finding the “Contact COAT” link on the coataccess.org page (you shouldn’t, it’s third down from the top in the left hand bar … and I’ve given you three direct links to http://www.COATaccess.org to click on already, not counting the one in this paragraph), here’s the direct link: http://coataccess.civicspaceondemand.org/contact.

COAT currently seems to be an American organization targeted at American laws and manufacturing companies in the United States. But not all new technologies are invented in the United States. Some are created (along with both barriers and innovative solutions for access) in places like Japan or Europe. Certainly deaf people (and blind people, deaf-blind people, Autistic people, and people with all other disabilities) deserve access to technology no matter what country they live in. I’m curious to know if there is any movement or organization similar to COAT in countries other than the United States. If you know of any, please share that information in the comments area below.

If you still have energy left after writing up your stories of technology woes with coataccess.org, then Jenifer Simpson with the American Association of Disabled People also has the following suggestion to make:

Jenifer Simpson Says:
August 17th, 2007 at 2:20 pm
At the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) we are hearing more and more about this problem. Especially as the transition to digital television occurs and there are newer and fancier TV sets and systems available with all kinds of features, I think this problem may be getting bigger. I encourage anyone with such concerns to contact the CEOs of the companies that manufacture these TV systems. We really do need to see some leadership from the industry on this!

I think this is a good idea, too. The companies that manufacture TV systems often don’t seem to understand just how fundamental captions are to deaf people’s ability to watch television, or why it’s important to NEVER bury caption decoders under so many layers of menu options, or hide them under non-intuitive labels (like “Screen” or “Video”) that deaf people will find it difficult to locate them. Your letters could help them “get” it. Next time you have problems with a specific TV set, write down the brand name and look up the address of the manufacturing company on line and WRITE them.

Even if you don’t live in the same country where the TV set was made, they still want to hear from you — it’s your dollars (and the dollars of your friends and relatives) that matter, not your place of residence. If they sell their TV sets everywhere, then they will want to hear from ALL their customers, potential customers, and boycotters EVERYWHERE.


[Want to submit your own essay for publication at Reunify Gally? It should be related in some way to reunifying or healing the Gallaudet community in the aftermath of the protests. Or, it can be related to some form of diversity within the Deaf/deaf/HOH community generally (example: racial and ethnic diversity, national origin, Deaf-Blind community, etc, see some of my other blog posts here for ideas.) If interested, review my Guidelines for Guest Bloggers and submit your essay to ashettle (at) patriot.net]

[Don’t forget to support the ADA Restoration Act petition at http://www.democracyinaction.org/dia/organizationsORG/adawatch/petition.jsp?petition_KEY=589&t=roadtofreedom.dwt — and be SURE to use the comments area in the petition to add your own stories of how the Americans with Disability Act has failed to help you because too many court decisions have weakened and diluted the original spirit and intent of the law. Your stories will strenthen the impact of your petition signature.]

[Interested in seeing my other, new blog on deaf and disability rights and poverty in developing countries? Check out wecando.wordpress.com.]

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2 Responses to “Inaccessible Technology Woes? Tell it to COAT!”

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[…] deaf-blind, or hard of hearing) may find http://www.coataccess.org to be a useful resource for you. I wrote about COAT in an earlier blog post. Posted in Audism, […]

pretty soon there’s going to be some legislation coming out that going to address some of the inaccessible technology issues, so we should all stay alert for notices from COAT or go to their website every couple of weeks and see if there’s an Action Alert up there…


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