Lessons from Apple's free sign language interpretation

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A hand holding an iphone with sign language interpretation on the screen

Previously this year, Apple has started offering free sign language interpretation services to their customers. If you haven't heard yet, anyone who enters the store can now use a new assistive technology that allows interpretation services through a mobile device. With this business innovation, Apple became a perfect example of a corporate company that wants to ensure equal access to everyone by providing accessibility features on-site.

Below, you will find out whether other businesses should follow this example and how to do it correctly.

Why does Apple's interpretation offer matter?

Apple offers their customers the ability to book interpretation services on their website, even if it comes on very short notice. An average employee doesn't know any of the sign languages, making it pretty hard for deaf people to communicate in a store. Providing access to on-site interpreters is a fundamental step toward convenient service for the hard of hearing with a focus on inclusion.

What is sign language interpretation?

Many people believe that sign language is universal for every person with hearing limitations. However, that's not true. Sign languages are natural languages that have evolved and have the same characteristics as spoken languages.

Sign language can be defined as a language that uses visual-manual symbols to transfer meaning. The most frequently used examples of sign languages include American Sign Language, British Sign Language, Chinese Sign Language, and others.

What do sign language interpreters do?

A sign language interpreter is a qualified professional with experience in technology, education, medicine, and business, practicing simultaneous interpretation. In other words, they help people with difficulties hearing to understand the original speaker in real-time.

How a sign language interpreter transfers meaning

An on-site interpreter in sign language facilitates communication without sharing the source or the target language. Instead, sign interpreters commonly use their hands, fingers, and facial expression to deliver spoken messages. However, they can also use other methods such as the oral method (slow lip movements that will allow lip-readers to understand the message) or the tactile method (for the ones who are both blind and deaf). Apple made this possible by introducing interpreters as mediators between their employees and people who have difficulty hearing. And they did it for free!

Is sign language interpretation really necessary?

In short, yes! As the Center for Disease Control and Prevention claims, 26% of adults in the United States are people with disabilities. With the help of sign language interpreters, we can only solve the hard of hearing and assist deaf people. That's why we have to emphasize that this is not the only Apple's move toward improving the service of individuals with different conditions – their accessibility roadmap is continuous and much broader.

The virtual environment needs to become more accessible

Accessibility issues didn't emerge after the pandemic, but they definitely got more intense. Before COVID-19, companies used to put their focus on improving on-site inclusivity, but now, organizing inclusive events in the remote world matters just as much.

Understanding the significance of accessibility in the business world, we gathered top lessons you can learn from Apple's decision to bring an interpreter to the store.

What lessons can businesses learn from Apple?

Address the whole spectrum of disabilities

There is a broad spectrum of physical disabilities: many people around us are deaf or have auditory issues, mobility difficulties, vision impairments, and so on. In times of globalization, we should think broadly about inclusivity and serve our customers with care.

Genuinely care about all of your customers

Let's take Apple's free sign language interpreting as an example. When you're about to implement a new feature, think about the person who needs it – not the general public's approval.

Announcing sign language interpreting and offering American sign language was just the first step for Apple. Realizing that one language is not enough to serve their community, they made interpretation available in British sign language and French sign language, promising to expand the number of languages in the future. At the same time, Apple works hard to improve its products to make them accessible for people who have visual problems and mobility difficulties.

Create a roadmap to improve accessibility

The first step toward improving inclusivity is having an accessibility roadmap in your company. Speak to your customers to set up client-centric goals and expectations. If you're working with a tool connected to a specific disability, consult with a national association (such as the American Association of People with Disabilities) to understand the problem in-depth and get an expert opinion.

Your roadmap should include numerous points. Take a look at Apple's roadmap, for instance:

  • People with limb differences can still use the same watches;
  • Support for third party hardware such as eye-tracking is available for easier control;
  • Users with limited vision can use their voice to control devices;
  • The addition of background sounds can minimize distractions, which can help people with certain psychological issues.

After developing your roadmap, it's important to stick to it and form a dedicated team (if your resources allow for it). Additionally, you can create a separate website page dedicated to people with disabilities. Even if you don't have a particular feature released yet, communicate that you're working on that and explain why you care.

Dedicate human resources to make it happen

Resources are crucial, so consider dedicating more than one person to address the accessibility topic in your business. Apple has a separate employee training program to provide customer service specifically for people with disabilities.

If you're developing a product, put together a separate team that could brainstorm ways to make it more accessible. If you're organizing an event – let separate people find ways to make it inclusive because it is essential.

Make accessibility features free-of-charge

Monetizing features developed for better user accessibility should never be a revenue stream. Yes, there are costs for the businesses. No sign language interpreter is free, but charging people extra because of their health conditions is unethical. By investing in interpreting services, Apple ensures efficient and consistent communication with customers, which brings us to the next lesson – persistence.

Remain persistent and continuous

Continuity is a must in building trust in your business. When you implement a new feature that any person can use, ensure that service is available and the feature is always up-to-date. Also, keep the communication with experts going and speak to the people who need those accessibility tools. The end-users can tell you what you need to improve and inform you of any challenges firsthand.

Seek permanent solutions

If you're implementing new accessibility features in your platform, make sure they are here to stay.

A good example of a permanent accessibility solution is the voice commands function. Developers keep continuously updating voice commands, thus expanding their possibilities. While this solution was initially created for people with specific disabilities, many of us now use this feature in daily life.

By constantly increasing accessibility, businesses keep their existing customers and attract new ones. Provided, of course, they review, improve, and update these features over time.

Don't be scared to take a risk

Apple has been doing a lot of things, and many times – they've done it first. Businesses shouldn't be afraid to take a risk, especially when it comes to tearing down the inaccessibility walls. Innovation is not always about complex, specialized equipment.

World-changing experiences happen when we make sure all people have something very basic – accessibility they deserve.

Bonus tip: Use translation services and written communication

People with hearing disabilities will have an easier time understanding your main point if you provide them with materials in written form. Consider using translation services to communicate the event content in different languages and include closed captioning on the screen if you host a meeting remotely.

At Interactio, our goal is to break the language barriers with the help of top-notch interpretation services. We don't have to speak the same language to understand each other, but we do have to give people a choice to use interpretation to communicate easier.

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Published on

Nov 26, 2021

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