Champions of accessibility

16 December 2021  

Lisa Hinderks is a medical anthropologist and sociologist who focuses on the identity formation of deaf and hard-of-hearing young people. She is a researcher at Kentalis and writes blogs from her perspective as an experiential expert on topics that play a role in the deaf community.

Eva Westerhoff hears nothing, but sees a lot, as she herself says. She is a digital inclusion and accessibility expert and is committed to helping people with a distance to the labor market find work. At her last employer, Aegon, she was working full-time on that subject as a quartermaster.

How did you get involved as champions of accessibility?

Eva: 'That has been part of it from an early age. I have a hard time with injustice and prefer to tackle problems immediately. In secondary school I was on the board of the student council and during my studies I was a board member of a youth organization for the hearing impaired. When I started working as a marketing communication consultant after my studies, I became responsible for developing a new website. There I found depth by looking at the accessibility of the site and that is how my interest in digital inclusion and accessibility arose.'

Dutch Sign Language (NGT) was officially recognized as a full-fledged language in the Netherlands in 2020. What does this recognition mean for its users?

Eva: 'To start with, it's recognition. Often deaf sign language speakers are not taken seriously, people often think they are a bit stupid. Now that the NGT is legally recognised, I hope that will change.”

Lisa: 'At the moment it doesn't change much because the law has only just come into effect (1 July 2021) and a lot still needs to be clear about the consequences of this law. An advisory committee will work on this. But for us it is also the feeling that we are not yet heard, seen or acknowledged. We want to belong.'

What is the need of the deaf community in terms of digital accessibility?

Eva: 'First of all, it is important to realize that there are many different types of deaf people. There are deaf people who are bilingual (NGT and Dutch) but also a very large group of deaf people who are low literate or functionally illiterate. Using subtitles or using an interpreter is not always sufficient. Just like the different language levels in Dutch, you also have levels in NGT. We need to look more closely at the way in which the Dutch translation for NGT is made. The translation into Dutch sign language is often at too high a level. The group of deaf people who are illiterate also need a low level of Dutch sign language. There is still little attention for this.'

Lisa: 'There is still so much to do. I notice for myself that a lot of videos, podcasts, etc are not accessible. And that is very frustrating. I am very interested in politics, for example I would like to follow vlogs about it, but that is often not possible. Podcast can be made accessible by adding a transcript, or having it translated by an interpreter. An interpreter is a more pleasant solution because you do not get the intonation and tone of the conversation with a transcript. An interpreter can take that with him.'

What is your wish for the future?

Eva: 'I hope that more people will become aware of the fact that there are many people with disabilities and that they have added value. By making your website and products (digitally) accessible, you can earn more money as a company because you reach more customers. Many people without disabilities also benefit from accessibility solutions. I also see a major role for the government here. It has an exemplary function. In the campaigns they create and also in the media. There is little diversity on TV, few people with disabilities, deaf, blind, in a wheelchair. Or it is always the same people who are seen.'

Lisa: 'Everything accessible! I would like it if the basics are accessibility and it doesn't have to be added and checked off somewhere at the last minute. It kind of feels like we're a forgotten group. The starting point should be: for everyone.'

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