Online video and British Sign Language

In-house videos made by Kirklees Council to provide information for deaf people are cheap, well-made and well received, as Graham Hopkins discovers

Providing information to the deaf community in British Sign Language is making a world of difference. Nor is it costing the earth.

With the Disability Equality Duty becoming law on 4 December, public authorities will have a “positive duty” to provide information to people with a sensory, communicative, cognitive or physical disability in the format they need.

Information for deaf people has traditionally been expensive and often only supplied if requested. But by making British Sign Language information videos in-house and distributing them on the internet, Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire has solved both access and cost conundrums. And the quality is excellent – the videos have been recommended by the main websites of the deaf community.

“The success of the BSL website was based on consulting and working with the deaf community to provide the information they asked for,” says John Parker, practice manager of services for deaf people. “We then ran web focus groups to find out their views and asked them for their suggestions for the future. We posted a flyer on how to access the information to each household with a deaf person.”

The consultation paid off. “It’s great that they respect our deaf culture,” says Darren James.* Fellow service user, Elaine Rowe,* agrees: “Before this I never knew there were services to help carers like me.” For Martin Samuel* the visuals were important: “The videos look OK – and I can follow them.”

However, many people believe signing deaf people have no problem in understanding printed English information about social care services. So why spend money on special formats?

“BSL is recognised as a language in its own right, with its own grammar and structure,” says Parker. “Social care services don’t think twice about supporting spoken languages. BSL has roots going back centuries and it should have equal respect as a language and as a format to present information.”

He says another common misunderstanding is that BSL is a universal language. “However, BSL has strong regional variations in dialect, special signs used by children, social signs and so on,” he adds. “That is why using local signers is essential.”

And importantly for organisations, the costs are surprisingly low. “For BSL videos you need a consumer camcorder on a tripod, which is about £200,” says information co-ordinator Howard Taylor. “Consumer video software costs about £60. You can use the office computer. With BSL you don’t have to edit sound. The only tricky part comes if you decide to run the videos on-line in a pop-up screen box. You need a web designer for that.

“However, you can avoid that if people can download the videos to play on their home computers. Or you could produce your videos on DVD. They are cheap and it’s easy to supply them to the deaf people’s centres to play on their DVD players.”

Senior web development officer, Marilyn Browne, agrees: “Online bandwidth for video is not expensive. You only have to look at the success of the broadcast-yourself website YouTube. Web videos must run smoothly to convey the meaning of sign language. File sizes must be kept small. That can be done in software if you keep the video clips short. For longer clips file sizes can be kept down by using a green paper or felt screen as a background, as long as you have even lighting.”

Or as illustrated in the accompanying photo (left) you can borrow or buy a chroma key screen. “The big advantage of using a chroma key screen is that it allows you to produce much smaller files which run better on the customer’s computer,” explains principal IT resource officer, Richard Bray. “It eradicates shadows and creases that may occur when using green paper or felt substitute.”

Social care services now have a positive duty to support disabled people with information about self-care, parental care, carer care and services. Following the Kirklees example, producing BSL videos is well within the reach of every public social care provider. And it makes economic sense. As Parker says: “We can all look back and think of cases where a little preventive information would have saved a lot of expensive care.”

*Not their real names

Lessons learned

  • Consult. Ask people what information they want, produce it on the web and ask their views. Change it. Consult them again about what they want in the future.
  • Make access easy. Get yourself an easily remembered web page address such as Put a BSL graphic link on the home page. Make sure you keep memory requirements low.
  • Keep costs low to ensure you can maintain the videos. Use consumer video equipment and software and get help from your IT people.
  • Keep it local. Use trusted local people signing in the local dialect of BSL.
  • Mix your media. Combine videos with plain language leaflets. Put a text phone number on your publications.
  • Assess their impact – as part of your ongoing Disability Equality Duty.

    Contact the author
    Graham Hopkins

    This article appeared in the 16 November issue, under the headline “Signs of Progress”

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