September is Deaf Awareness Month! When I wrote a blog post previously for Pride, it started as a post for students and quickly turned into a post to gym owners and instructors - we all need to do better for queer students. In the same way, gyms can do more to welcome people with disabilities beyond wheelchair-accessible ramps and restrooms.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss some big and small ways to make your gym more accessible both in person and online.
Hire an Interpreter for Classes
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s important to not that businesses are required to provide “reasonable accommodations.” When talking with interpreters and people familiar, we were told that our business would not be required to provide ASL interpreters because we are such a small business. But when we say that self-defense is for everyone, we really mean it. After checking with interpreters, agencies, our accountant, and more, we decided to provide an ASL interpreter for our Thursday class. You can find people through agencies, through freelance work, and more. Obviously, this makes the most sense when you know that you’ll have a Deaf or hard of hearing student in class, but know that it’s an option for you.
Learn Some Sign Language Yourself
Have you ever been in a place where you don’t speak the language, but you try to have a few words in your back pocket, like “please” and “thank you”? People appreciate the effort when you try to speak their language. The same can be said for American Sign Language. What are three things that you can learn to communicate with your Deaf students?
Learning ASL phrases is significantly easier than you think. There are a number of ASL apps and YouTube channels where you can learn phrases, questions, vocabulary, and more. Here are just a few examples of what we use:
Download this app: The ASL App
Check out this channel: Learn How To Sign
Bonus points if you can start using ASL in your classes or gym so that other students and instructors can learn as well and communicate.
Use Screen Reader-Friendly Text and Alt Text
For the Blind or DeafBlind community, text-to-speech or screen readers can help people read your website and your social media posts. Alt text uses your description for screen readers to describe an image, but screen readers can only read what people provide. When images are uploaded and the name isn’t changed, screen readers often see descriptions such as “IMG_001.jpg” or “2847dj_0.jpg.”
This is a video that uses humor to explain why alt text can make a difference for people who are Blind or visually impaired: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAIIrnhi6lg
And if you need another reason to consider alt-text, it can also help your Google search ranking results.
Outside of alt text on images, there are other things to think about when it comes to screen readers, including spelling out acronyms and camel casing your hashtags. Because screen readers often speak exactly what’s written, acronyms often come out like nonsense. When you can, write out the name or words to help get your point across. When creating hashtags for social posts, use Camel Case so that screen readers can differentiate between words. For example, #ILoveMyGym instead of #ilovemygym.
Check Your Artwork and Web Colors with the Color Checker
Thinking about what we said above regarding making images friendly for screen readers and accessibility technology, you can do the same accessibility work for colors on your website, text images, digital fliers, and more. Depending on your color combinations, screen readers may not be able to read text for those who are blind or have low vision. People who are color blind also benefit from the use of the color checker.
Interested in learning more about this? Visit: https://webaim.org/resources/contrastchecker/
Some of these things are easy and some of them are significantly harder. Before you decide to move forward with any of these, ask yourself if you can keep them up in the long term, if you can afford them before offering, or if you’re at the right spot in your business to implement these changes.
Know That You Will Screw Up
This is to be expected - you will mess up. We asked a Deaf student to close their eyes at a time when we were giving instructions, meaning she couldn’t see the instructions from the interpreter. I’ve unintentionally talked slowly with an interpreter present. I’ve made poor color choices for flyers and held off on using alt-text. In the same way that it comes to pronouns, correct yourself and move on. Hold yourself to higher standards the next time around and know that it’s making a difference for someone in your community.
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