Q&A with Svetlana Kouznetsova, Founder of Audio Accessibility

The latest installment of our Accessibility Activists column is an interview with Svetlana Kouznetsova, founder of Audio Accessibility, a consulting service that helps make audio, videos, and events accessible for deaf people. In addition to her work in accessibility, Kouznetsova also works in user experience and product management.

When did you first get started in accessibility?

I have been profoundly deaf in both ears since I was two years old after contracting meningitis. So I have first hand experience with communication and information access barriers. I am fortunate to have a supportive family and also to meet many other deaf and hard of hearing people as well as people with other disabilities, and to get involved with various organizations that advocate for accessibility. This helped me become more confident as a deaf person, learn to self-advocate, and educate more people about importance of accessibility as a working professional.

What project are you most proud of from your work in accessibility?

My book that I published last year. I kept saying in past that I would write a book one day and I finally started working on it a couple years ago. Being a native Russian speaker and dealing with so many communication access barriers to become a fluent English speaker, I find my book project one of my most important achievements that I would not have imagined back then when I was younger, let alone in a language other than my mother tongue. The book dispels myths about deafness, shares my personal experiences and case studies, and explains why captioning is universal access and benefits a wider audience. It can be checked out on audio-accessibility.com/book.

What is your current area of focus in the accessibility field?

I like many aspects of accessibility and educate businesses about the importance of making their products and services user-friendly and accessible from the start of any project, and not to use accessibility as a nice extra or an afterthought. My major focus is captioning and communication access because I know this subject best, being a deaf person and an experienced professional; using various technologies and communication options; and being involved with organizations related to deafness. Since deafness is an invisible disability and very stigmatized, many people with hearing loss would not ask for access. Therefore, it makes many people with normal hearing assume that only a small number of people need access without realizing that not all people are same in terms of hearing and communication abilities and preferences and that quality human-made captioning is universal access that benefits more people than just those with hearing difficulties. Many businesses also do not realize that people with disabilities make the largest minority — comprising a market size of China — and yet their needs are sadly the most misunderstood and ignored.

What accessibility barrier would you like technology to solve?

There are already a lot of great technologies out there like hearing aids and cochlear implants, visual alerts (door or fire strobes, for example), vibrating alarm clocks, captioning tools, texting, video calls, and so on. It would be cool to see captioning running in air via hologram, for example! While technology would be useful, I feel that there’s a need for more empathy and awareness about deafness and disabilities in general in order to remove accessibility barriers. The issue is more with attitudinal than physical barriers. For example, a captioning tool may be useful for displaying aural information via text, but it is useless if auto captioning or speech recognition is enabled because they are not of acceptable quality and would not replace qualified human professionals. So I would like to see an increasing interest of people in becoming captioners, sign language interpreters, and cued speech transliterators – there’s a high demand for quality communication access providers.

Many people with hearing loss [do] not ask for access. Therefore, it makes many people with normal hearing assume that only a small number of people need access…