Sign Language – making literature more accessible

This year the Edinburgh International Book Festival piloted a new scheme which offered British Sign Language interpretation by request for any event. This built on previous years where BSL interpretation was offered at a number of pre-decided events. The festival ended on Tuesday and now with some time to reflect, Amanda Barry, Marketing and PR Manager has kindly shared some of the background to the initiative with the Language Rich Europe blog:

Why was the decision made to start this initiative?

We have a set budget for BSL interpreted events and were choosing the events ourselves which seemed the wrong way round. People who book events because they are BSL events rarely make themselves known to us, so we are never sure how many people actually use the facility. The events we used to pick to be BSL interpreted were often the more popular events and would sell out very quickly and we wanted to allow for later bookers, be able to assess how many people actually wanted/needed a BSL interpreter (given we are a book festival about language and words and many deaf people struggle with this) and wanted to give bookers some flexibility in what they could attend.

Although the response rate to the initiative was described as ‘low – about 6 people requested BSL interpreted events’ with no plans to expand upon it in the immediate future, the pilot recognises the importance of  sign languages in making book events more accessible with Press Manager Frances Sutton explaining that the festival wanted ‘to give our hard of hearing customers a wider range of events they can see and enjoy.’

Edinburgh is not the only book festival to include sign language in their programme. Last year, Sheffield’s Off the Shelf festival launched the first British Sign Language translation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This book enables readers to read the text in English while following video clips of the BSL translation. According to publisher DeafEducate’s website, this is an important resource for language learning:

For people who use British Sign Language as their first language, eBooks will enable them to acquire confidence in reading and understanding English, and likewise for people who use English and want to learn British Sign Language.

Similarly, the European Commission funded project SignLibrary provides access to world literature which has been translated into Sign Language. Texts can be downloaded or read directly on the site and members can create their own stories or translate books themselves which can be uploaded to the Community area.

Initiatives such as these support the European Parliament’s call ‘to promote sign language and to ensure deaf people can work and learn in their preferred language’ and the European Commission‘s acknowledgement of sign language as ‘an important part of Europe’s multilingual diversity.’ There are many more excellent sign language projects and events happening across Europe, a few of which are listed below, but we would love to hear of others in the Comments section:

A big thank you to Amanda Barry, Frances Sutton and Colin Fraser at the Edinburgh International Book Festival for answering my questions and Kathrin Tietze at the British Council for providing information on other sign languages events.

4 thoughts on “Sign Language – making literature more accessible

  1. Making theatre and opera accessible: The state theatre in Mainz/ Germany staged Wagner’s Tannhäuser for (not only) deaf and blind people complete with audio desciptions, visits backstage and on stage before the perfomance to get a feel of the space and costumes, sign language interpreters interpreting text and music.
    http://www.3sat.de/mediathek/mediathek.php?obj=24842
    More along the same lines, please.

  2. Pingback: Sign Language – making museums more accessible | Language Rich Europe

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