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Access 2.0 interview: Rob Wilks

  • By Paul Crichton
  • 11 Jun 07, 03:19 PM

Rob Wilks has just qualified as a solicitor. He is an active blogger, and you can read his postings at North of the Stupid Line. Rob is deaf and is a British Sign Language user.

Question: What are the biggest access issues when it comes to the web for hearing impaired users?

Rob: The Internet is very "written language" based. This means for Deaf British Sign Language (BSL) users, much of it is inaccessible.

However, video blogging, or vlogging for short, is a recent phenomenon that is gaining in popularity but in itself has access issues for Deaf people. Much of British terrestrial television is subtitled, and the Communications Act 2003 regulates the subtitling of TV output. On the web, there is no equivalent legislation to regulate the subtitling of web-based video output. Some inroads have been made in this area, such as the development of dotSUB, but this is voluntary - something still needs to be done before video output explodes as a medium online.

Similarly, little development has been made in creating visual sound alerts. For example, with the Opera browser, there are several sound alerts to announce an instant message has been received or for a successful data transfer, but there is hardly any provision for Deaf surfers.

Question: Are there any websites that are big with the deaf community that you would recommend?

Rob: I like Deaf Blogs and DeafRead. I also use Twitter, taps into the current trend of the Deaf community in using SMS [mobile phone text messaging]. As a communication tool, SMS has taken off among Deaf people, and makes it easier to communicate not only with Deaf friends, but also with hearing people as well.

Also, social networking tools online such as Bebo and Facebook are quite popular, particularly among younger generations of Deaf people. In the old days, Deaf people used to meet up in Deaf Clubs; now they either meet online or in pubs or both!

Question: Thinking about how the web is changing, are there any trends you have noted that worry you or give you hope?

Rob: Blogging is only just starting to take off among the Deaf community in the UK, although there are great blogs like Noesis and Grumpy Old Deafies. It has taken off rather well among the Deaf community in the USA and there are blogs like and Reflexivity. However, not enough Deaf BSL users are vlogging yet. There needs to be improvements in technology and it needs to be made easier to vlog.

Question: Does blogging make a big difference to you personally?

Rob: I have blogged for a number of years, and vlogged for about one and a half years. I see it as a vent for any frustrations I encounter in my daily life (I deal with my fair share - it comes with the territory). It's also a forum for me to develop my writing skills. With a blog, you can post on any topic that takes your fancy.

Question: Do you use your mobile for signing?

Rob: Not yet - I do have video recording abilities on my mobile, but don't have the confidence to actually do something in front of it in public! Perhaps one of these days when I'm on the train, I'll pluck up the courage to sign away in BSL at a mobile phone!

If you would like to be interviewed for Access 2.0, please send an email to us here at Ouch!

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 12:07 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • tomy wrote:

I didn't understand this:

The Internet is very "written language" based. This means for Deaf British Sign Language (BSL) users, much of it is inaccessible.

I don't know any deaf people: does this mean that people who sign can't read or write English?

  • 2.
  • At 09:41 AM on 23 Jul 2007,
  • Eamonn wrote:

In response to Tomy's comment; English is a second language for many Deaf people who use BSL as their preferred language. Levels of English skills amongst BSL users vary greatly from individual to indiidual, therefore access to information on the web in written English can be an issue. Imagine yourself accessing a website writen in Kiswahili and you get the idea.
Hope tis helps.

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