ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — For decades, Deaf and DeafBlind populations say they have been overlooked and underserved by healthcare and health research. 

A group of researchers from the University of Rochester is trying to change that.

The researchers, who work with the National Center for Deaf Health Research (NCDHR), have created a tool that makes surveys more accessible for all populations.

The tool was created after research coordinators like Jenna Stewardson noticed there were limitations on some survey platforms, including the web-based application called REDCap.

“REDCap is unfortunately designed for text-based surveys. However, with most of the deaf community, a lot of information is visual, the communication is visual, and that was not exactly accessible,” Stewardson said. 

REDCap is used by a lot of colleges and businesses, and Stewardson said it was important these institutions were including Deaf and DeafBlind populations in research.

“We partnered with Vanderbilt, who founded and created REDCap, to figure out a way to make that possible,” Stewardson said. “We did so by developing a module that allowed it, the software, in and of itself, to be more accessible to the Deaf and DeafBlind communities.”

The software is called the Rochester Accessibility Survey tool. The tool makes it easy to upload survey questions and answers as short American Sign Language (ASL) videos, or videos in other languages used by Deaf, DeafBlind and low-vision individuals.

Stewardson explains they created the tool by starting with a list of questions they wanted to incorporate into surveys.

“We’ll start with written questions because we’re modeling it after other research studies that are text-based and English. And beginning with that, we then create translations into American Sign Language, which sounds like a one-step of a multi-step process, but actually is quite laborious,” Stewardson said. 

They then incorporate a number of deaf people and ASL coaches to make sure they are signing in ways that are accessible to a variety of individuals. Then, sign actors are hired to sign questions and answers on camera. 

“Then I essentially cut all of the videos to create it so that the videos are one video for the questions, and then one video for each potential answer for the person to then select,” Stewardson said. 

The videos are uploaded to each question and answer, making it easy for users to click on. Users are also able to adjust text size and color, along with background colors to improve readability.

Stewardson says these changes not only improve accessibility for deaf and DeafBlind populations, but it also enhances accuracy and reliability of responses on surveys. 

“Historically, unfortunately, it’s been really challenging to design surveys that can be deployed within members of the deaf community and made accessible to those folks, so that has been a huge point of missing data,” Stewardson said.

“This is essentially one small step to make research more inclusive of deaf people as data points, but also to make deaf people’s communication needs be met with our research tools.”

While the tool is only being used currently on REDCap platforms, Stewardson hopes that this will encourage others to make research surveys that are accessible for everyone.

You can learn more about the tool by clicking here.