IMPROVING SOCIAL INCLUSION BY EMBRACING INCLUSIVE COMMUNICATION
At Martel Innovate, we embrace more inclusive communication to improve social inclusion and ensure no one is left behind in the green and digital transition. One of the newest additions to our portfolio is EASIER, a H2020 project that aims to create a framework for barrier-free communication among deaf and hearing citizens across the European Union (EU). Although complex and ambitious, this project is, above all, a wonderful and rewarding human-oriented adventure. Martel has two important roles within EASIER – project coordination led by our consulting department, and communication and dissemination carried out by Martel Media.
How does deafness affect web accessibility?
At some point in life, we have all been asked this question: if you had to choose, which sense would you rather lose, vision or hearing? This question illustrates the misconception that blindness is in a way the opposite of deafness – as if there was some sort of binary representation of impairment. It is therefore not a surprise that a vast majority of web and app designs oversimplify the matter and thus fail the Deaf community. Audio captioning and subtitling are not enough as they rely solely on written forms of spoken languages to convey information. If we want to provide truly great user experiences for the Deaf community, we must stop thinking of deafness as the inverse of hearing (or even worse – the inverse of blindness). Approaching the subject from both linguistic and cultural perspectives helps in gaining an understanding of how deafness influences web accessibility for more inclusive communication.
Native sign languages are full-fledged natural languages with their own grammar and syntax and not a gestural representation of spoken languages. They use the visual-manual modality to convey meaning, and they typically do not have natural written forms. One in a thousand persons in the EU (approximately half a million people) communicates in one of the 31 national or regional sign languages as their mother tongue. And although many deaf people use English (or other languages) as their second language, their local sign language is their only true native language, e.g., British Sign Language (which should not be mistaken for English).
For this reason, we should recognize deafness as a culture rather than an impairment. It is important to note that deaf people do not consider themselves disabled – after all, they can and do communicate – it is just that the dominant languages of their countries are not their primary languages. To learn more about the sign languages in the EU, refer to this brochure developed by the European Parliament.
There is no simple, fix-it-all solution that could quickly solve the gap in web accessibility and ensure more inclusive communication. However, as an ambitious and socially conscious team, we worked hard to get a better understanding of the issue and we are now making an honest attempt at addressing it.
Designing a bespoke brand identity for EASIER
We know the power of first impressions, so it was important for us to create a truly positive visual impact. We leveraged the findings of color psychology and color theory and started by defining a foundational element of any brand identity – color palette.
In addition to conveying information, colors elicit emotions and feelings. They enable stakeholders to form an initial impression without knowing much about the project and help them decide whether they want to engage. Since color has the power to evoke emotions, encourage conversions, and even generate loyalty when used correctly, our creative team has been engaged in EASIER from the very early stages of the proposal preparation to ensure more inclusive communication.
We determined the project color palette by looking at the emotional associations of colors. We wanted to clearly convey our brand personality and showcase our optimism, creativity, and commitment to inclusiveness. We picked yellow because it is an uplifting color that evokes happiness and optimism; red orange because it is invigorating and engaging, and because it symbolizes health and vitality; and grey as it stands for neutrality.
Once we had the perfect color palette, we proceeded to design the logo. The idea was to synthesize sign language communication through an ideogram that recalls the hand movement of fingerspelling. We added a textual part with the name of the project and the tagline to support the ideogram. Our project partners are currently working on sign language interpretations of the logo. Stay tuned!
An accessible website
In addition to designing a bespoke brand identity for EASIER, we created a responsive multi-language website characterized by light design and high contrast for more inclusive communication. To further enhance user experience and website readability, we integrated a dedicated accessibility plug-in that facilitates accessibility for the deaf, hard of hearing, and visually impaired persons. The website is currently available in English and Greek, with the translations into French, German, Italian, and Dutch underway. The website features multi-language press releases in the form of sign language videos and a signing avatar, Paula, who will learn new sign languages throughout the project. We also plan to implement a keyboard navigation bar in an effort to reach an even broader audience.
Making communication inclusive and accessible is of great importance to us. Besides taking people’s varied capabilities into consideration when creating communication materials, we are now focusing our efforts on engaging a community around the planned use cases and players involved in their implementation. It is essential to EASIER that the Deaf community is heavily involved in the application usability testing, including the screening and assessment of Paula’s progress. We believe that EASIER will be able to provide a truly great solution largely thanks to the support and feedback of its end users.
Even though EASIER is still at very early stages (has been running for just 3 months), it has already thought us a great deal. In addition to drawing our attention to the subject of accessibility in web development, it encourages us to be more conscious about the way we communicate. We look forward to learning more about the Deaf community and further honing our communication skills.
EASIER is a Horizon 2020 project responding to the ICT-57-2020 topic “an empowering, inclusive Next Generation Internet”. The project aims to design, develop, and validate a complete multilingual machine translation system that will act as a framework for barrier-free communication among deaf and hearing individuals, as well as provide a platform to support sign language content creation. The project concept is based on a unique combination of technological sign language resources and sign language linguistics expertise. This allows for exploitation of a robust data-driven sign language recognition engine, the incorporation of a signing avatar that integrates sign language grammar and prosody features to perform the most advanced synthetic signing currently available, as well as the state-of-the-art machine translation technology that consumes both annotated and unannotated data to deal with a wide range of use scenarios.
Visit the EASIER project website and follow us on social media!