Improving Accessible Technology for People Who Have Hearing Loss or Are Deaf Through an Industry‒Consumer Alliance
Submitted by Victoria Lennon, American Institutes for Research
The Industry‒Consumer Alliance for Accessible Technology (ICAAT) is an online community that provides an easy, structured way for industry and consumers to connect, work together, and inspire better technology for people who have hearing loss or are Deaf. Through ICAAT, industry representatives can enlist consumers in product research and testing and talk directly with them to learn more about their accessibility needs. Consumers also can engage in discussion groups and share user experiences. The goal is to make consumer products more accessible for people who have hearing loss or are Deaf by putting them at the center of the design and development of those products.
ICAAT was developed by Gallaudet University, the American Institutes for Research (AIR), and Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). The project is part of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Technology Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) at Gallaudet University, which is funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR). The goal of the RERC is to facilitate a shift in the role of technology and address the accessibility and usability of technology for consumers who are Deaf or hard of hearing, their family, and friends.
Under a previous RERC grant, Gallaudet, HLAA, and AIR partnered to form the Network of Consumer Hearing Assistive Technology Trainers (N-CHATT). N-CHATT provided training to people affected by hearing loss to empower others in their communities to find, evaluate, use, and advocate for hearing assistive technology. The current project focuses on the creation and management of ICAAT, which builds relationships between technology developers and consumers who have hearing loss or are Deaf to promote user-centered design and development.
ICAAT uses a community of practice (CoP) model to connect industry with consumers and promote co-design of accessible technologies for people who are Deaf or have hearing loss. Co-design allows consumers to participate directly in the design process, from identifying challenges in need of technology solutions to serving as product testers and reviewers.
Through a landscape analysis conducted during the first year of the grant, project partners found consumers with hearing loss had no place to share their experiences, provide input, and collaborate with technology developers. ICAAT seeks to change this by providing a systematic, structured, and sustainable approach to industry‒consumer partnerships. These partnerships benefit industry by helping developers reach a growing consumer market, and benefit consumers by promoting more usable and accessible technology.
ICAAT features four main components:
- Tech Forum is a virtual CoP for consumers and technology developers. The Tech Forum facilitates discussions between and among consumers and developers, encourages the sharing of experiences, knowledge, and ideas concerning technology topics, and curates relevant resources and event listings. Individuals can choose to join groups that focus on a variety of technology-related topics, such as the use of automatic speech recognition to convert speech to text. These structured interactions help people organize purposeful actions and allow for different levels of participation depending on individuals’ interests and preferences.
- User Stories are short, personal accounts in which consumers with hearing loss and Deaf consumers discuss their experiences with communication access and technology. These real-world stories highlight opportunities for industry to address the challenges consumers face in everyday life. The project has published 24 such stories to date, and readers are invited to contribute their own stories on ICAAT’s website. User Stories are a valuable way for technology developers to understand consumers’ needs and begin the design process for technology solutions.
- Co-Design Connect provides a place where industry partners can recruit for market research and product testing and consumers can learn about and respond to these opportunities. Industry partners also can request consultation with subject matter experts at HLAA. Previously, industry partners reached out directly to HLAA for help engaging with consumers during product design and testing. ICAAT formalizes this process to make it easier for industry and consumers to find each other and work together.
- Co-Design Essentials provide practical resources for consumers and industry partners participating in co-design. Consumers can access explainers about aspects of serving as a product tester or reviewer, such as requesting accommodations for communication access and understanding nondisclosure agreements. Likewise, industry partners can access resources about working with consumers with hearing loss or those who are Deaf, such as identity terms and communication preferences, communication accessibility and best practices, and expectations around compensation and marketing. Many of these resources are designed to address specific challenges or information gaps that HLAA has observed in partnerships between industry and consumers.
The project team used participatory research approaches to involve consumers and industry partners in the development of ICAAT’s four components. The project has incorporated input from individuals who are Deaf or have hearing loss since its inception: Several project team members have hearing loss, and the project has sought periodic input about ICAAT’s offerings from individuals who participated in N-CHATT, the train-the-trainer program developed by the same project team, as well as from HLAA members via webinars. The project team interviewed industry contacts to understand their needs and motivations for participation in the CoP, and talked with organizations that serve other disabilities to understand their experiences. The project team drew on these interviews to understand how ICAAT could help bring industry and consumers together toward productive partnerships.
ICAAT’s ability to engage participants stems from the trusting relationships that the project team has established with consumers and industry. These relationships can take years, if not decades, for a project to develop from the ground up. ICAAT relies on the reputations and pre-existing networks of project partners that already have performed the long-term work of maintaining relationships and establishing credibility with the project’s intended audiences. In particular, the project team includes HLAA, a national consumer organization that has represented consumers with hearing loss for more than 40 years. HLAA’s longstanding relationships with consumers and industry have been key to involving participants in ICAAT’s development, disseminating ICAAT to a wider audience, and planning for sustainability after the grant period. The project team will have an exhibit on ICAAT at HLAA’s annual convention in summer 2023.
NIDILRR Grant Name: RERC on Technology for People who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
Organization: Gallaudet University
Mailing Address: 800 Florida Ave. NE, Technology Access Program, SLCC 1116, Washington, DC 20002-3695
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