Unique user research concluded within Content4All by HFC. Researching the deaf community on media behaviours and requirements to use virtual humans in media formats. They explain all in following interview.

  1. Hello Astrid, Vaishnavi, (from HFC) you are doing the user research in the Content4All project.  Can you first elaborate on your approach towards this research.

Our users, Deaf and hard of hearing, do heavily rely on visual senses. That’s why, they have another experience in watching TV than hearing people. Because watching TV is an audio-visual experience. Hence, the audio stream has to be provided via some visual output. This output should of course be natural to the deaf. However, what is often unknown is that written/spoken language as in subtitles is not their mother tongue, but rather sign language. That’s why in the project we want to develop a technology which enables a greater widespread use of sign language for tv shows such as weather forecast.

In the process, we are following the user-centered design approach which means that users are involved in each step of the development, from requirements assessment to the evaluation of the technology. Users are involved using different methods such as interviews, workshops, and online questionnaires. This is called ‘multi method approach’. What is also important is that we not only involve the users but possible stakeholders such as broadcasters etc.

  • You mention ‘multi method approach’ and user-centered design. Why you chose these methods within this project what are the benefits, academic conditions to do these?

Multi method approach helps us to collect data from different theoretical angles which in turn provides us with different insights in terms of quantitative and qualitative data. Additionally we can cross check converging and diverging requirements stemming from different user samples with different characteristics such as age, affinity for technology, preferences in media technology usage and social media usage. There is no alternative to user-centered design approach if a technical solution is to be accepted by the users. We at HFC follow this approach regularly 😊.

  • One of the topics researched was the media usage, can you give us the main outcomes, which media is mostly used by the deaf community. 

It’s no surprise that smart phone is actually used most by everyone in this world, including the deaf community. As younger people are digital natives, they obviously use smartphones much more often as compared to older age groups.

One remarkable finding is that deaf people prefer to receive informative content such as news etc in their mother tongue but not affective content with visual action such as movies. An easy explanation for this is visual attention allocation. A good comparative example is when hearing people watch a movie with foreign language subtitles. Multiple visual inputs can be taxing.

The most important finding is that every possible user has his/her own expectations towards the system depending on his/her own abilities and personnel preferences.

Conducting the user requirements research emphasised the importance of this project as nearly all users criticized the lack of signed content in traditional TV. Thus, they have to watch TV with subtitles which is not their mother tongue.

à But here, it also showed that young deaf grow up meanwhile more naturally with written language than older generations did.

  • In Content4All we are researching a virtual human as a deaf signer, what are the main requirements for the deaf community to accept a virtual signer.

We have to keep in mind, that the visual appearance of the virtual signer is of utmost importance for our user group. That means on the one hand, that the virtual signer should support visual perception of the signs performed. These signs are a combination of arm- and hand movements as well as facial expressions. Hence, like it is already known from traditional signed TV – the upper body of the signer should wear long sleeved, uni-coloured clothes, should have no moustache or fringe/bangs,… On the other hand, it should also transport emotional content matching the topic it is signing.

  • Are there some other requirements regarding the virtual human that were researched, what were the outcomes, regarding TV interface, accessibility features.

These are questions we are addressing in an online questionnaire just about being launched. In the questionnaire we vary different components of a TV screen with a signer, such as how big the signer is, or whether it has a background frame. The questionnaire will be sent to users in different countries. E.g. in Flanders, Belgium and Switzerland, we cooperate with the ???? (name of the two deaf associations) , who we will contact.

  • Is there a lot of research done regarding these topics, this is unique in the world?

Unfortunately, there is not much applied research regarding accessibility as such, and regarding accessibility and media there is even less research available. There are just a few recommendations for system development in the Universal Design approach for instance or for websites the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines exist. So, we are glad to be able to contribute some insights into media usage of Deaf consumers and to support our project from a user research perspective.

Thank you for the interview!