Media & Disability

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Guide on media & disability

Working with People who are Deaf/Hearing Impaired

Your First Contact with a Deaf or Hearing Impaired Person

Deaf and hearing impaired people communicate in various ways. People who are born deaf are more likely to use Sign Language. People who become deaf may use Sign Supported Language, or lip read. Some deaf people use speech and rely on hearing aids. Others use a variety of forms of communication support: sign language interpreters, lip speakers, speech to text reporters, note takers, deafblind manual interpreters and hands-on signing.

  • If you communicate by email, fax or letter remember that people whose first language is Sign Language may have difficulties with reading long, complicated tracts of text. Keep it simple and direct; use short, clear sentences.
  • Email or faxes are not always best the best way to communicate if you need an instant response. You may wish to offer a text service so that a deaf person can text you from their mobile phone.
  • Some countries operate a Relay telephone service. You can call a deaf person via the Relay Service – the telephone call is made with the help of an operator who types the hearing person’s words through to the deaf person’s textphone and then voices the deaf person’s typed response.

Types of Communication Support

If you are interviewing, auditioning, recording or filming with deaf or hearing-impaired people, try to find out their communication requirements well in advance. Access for deaf people (as for all people with disabilities) really begins when you tell people that an event is happening. Try to find out what may be required by asking for feedback from your preliminary information, or advertise what support you plan to provide.

Sign Language and Sign Supported Language Interpreters

You may decide to include sign language interpretation at an interview or programme recording, or at least at some recordings. It is recommended that programmes that are recorded around the country should have full Sign Language provision to ensure that Sign Language users can participate in their own local event. This is necessary in those situations where it is impossible to determine the composition of the audience in advance. This ensures that no Sign Language user is excluded on arrival. If you decide to do this, you should publicise this as far in advance as possible. You should also print on the tickets for an audience the phrase “The recording will be interpreted into Sign Language.”

There are two types of sign language, Sign Language and Sign Supported language. Sign Language is often the first language of people who are born deaf. It is very clearly a language in its own right with a grammar of its own. Sign supported language has signs based on the native language and is primarily used by people who have become deaf. Your deaf audience could be mixed. It is very important that you have an interpreter who, if necessary, can provide both versions.

You may find there is a shortage of trained interpreters so leave plenty of time to organise this. (4-6 weeks is good, 2-3 weeks should be possible, 24 hours is usually too late). When booking, discuss the type of situation for which you need communication support – check that the interpreter’s skills, experience and preferences match the job. Some will have expertise in signing for large groups while others work better with one-to-one or smaller groups. Make sure you brief the interpreter well ahead, giving details of any technical or difficult language which might crop up. Interpreters also appreciate being included at rehearsals.

Prices vary, expect to pay a fee plus travel expenses per day.

Some general rules are:

  • Arrange seating so that the deaf person (or deaf audience) has a good view of the interpreter
  • Get the lighting right (it’s difficult to read sign language if the interpreter is strongly back-lit)
  • In an interview, address the deaf person, not the interpreter, during your conversation, and keep looking at the deaf person while they are signing and the interpreter is voicing their contribution
  • Schedule in some breaks – interpreting (like any simultaneous translation) is hard work. If the recording is going to be quite lengthy it is a good idea to have two Sign Language Interpreters who take in turns to do the work. Discuss the best way to organise the session with the Sign Language Interpreter in advance.