Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Sign Language Web Pages

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Sign Language Web Pages

Article excerpt

THE WORLD WIDE WEB has changed the way people interact. It has also become an important equalizer of information access for many social sectors. However, for many people, including some sign language users, Web accessing can be difficult. For some, it not only presents another barrier to overcome but has left them without cultural equality. The present article describes a system that allows sign language-only Web pages to be created and linked through a video-based technique called signlinking. In two studies, 14 Deaf participants examined two iterations of signlinked Web pages to gauge the usability and learnability of a signing Web page interface. The first study indicated that signing Web pages were usable by sign language users but that some interface features required improvement. The second study showed increased usability for those features; users consequently could navigate sign language information with ease and pleasure.

Every day, millions of people use the World Wide Web as an efficient vehicle for communication and information gathering. This technological innovation has revolutionized the way people communicate, do business, and participate in society because information is so easily exchanged between users. The Web has evolved over time to be an interactive multimedia environment. However, design based on text and static images remains the dominant form of interface. This is especially apparent when the Web is compared with television, in which sound and moving images, especially spoken and gestural communication, dominate.

In general, the textual nature of the Web benefits accessibility because character encoding systems (ASCII, UNICODE, etc.) have been developed for most written languages. These encoding systems are highly efficient and enable automated representations in other forms (e.g. text to speech, text to Braille, separating presentation from content). In feet, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (W3C, 2003) list text equivalents as one of their highest-priority recommendations.

Deaf access to Web content and interactive structures for people with disabilities has been advocated and indeed legislated for some time (U.S. Department of Justice, 2003; W3C, 2003). However, many of the techniques used to provide access to such media for Deaf and hard of hearing users involve conversion of spoken language and sounds into text. For many Deaf users, who communicate primarily in sign languages such as American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language (BSL), printbased material, such as closed captions, is experienced as a second language. Creating original ASL content will benefit both users who prefer content in their native language and those who find it difficult to comprehend material produced in print-based languages.

ASL is the prevalent sign language used in North America, although it is not the only one (e.g., in Quebec, Canada, the Langue des Signes Québécoise, LSQ, is used). ASL, like other true sign languages, is a visual-spatial language without any grammatical similarities to English (Stokoe, 2001). It is considered a linguistically complete natural language system in which the elements of the language are not equivalent to vowels and consonants of written languages, and it is not a translation of English (Conover, 1997). Vocabulary and the meaning of concepts in ASL are expressed by means of a series of hand gestures, facial gestures such as eyebrow motion and lip-mouth movements, and body movements that change in time and space (Stokoe, 2005). This series of gestures cannot easily be represented by a single written or spoken word, or static-image equivalent.

In a study of the literacy levels of Deaf and hard of hearing high school students, Holt, hotto, and Cole (1994) found that Deaf ASL-speaking teenagers graduating from high school have, on average, a fourth-grade English-literacy level. As a result, English text and translated dialogue (from the Web, television, or digital video content) can be much less accessible than if the language of presentation is ASL Deaf teenagers and, by extrapolation, Deaf adults therefore may have considerable difficulty accessing and taking advantage of the Web. …

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