Adding sign language interpretation to your online event

Henk Boelman
Nov 25, 2020 · 6 min read
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The current situation around the world forcing us to stay at home and re-invent online conferences, offers us the opportunity to make events more accessible for community members who are deaf or hard of hearing. The past six months I have been involved in co-producing multiple online conferences that offered signed language interpretation. I worked with Maya de Wit, who runs her own company in Sign Language Interpreting Consultancy. Maya assisted me in creating this document.

I was a complete unaware of sign languages and interpretation before I started on this journey. In this article I want to share with you the things I have learned and hopefully inspire you to add sign language interpretation to your next online event.

Things I learned

A person providing sign language interpretation is called a sign language interpreter. Persons who ‘speak’ a sign language are called signers.

Sign language is not just one language

The first step for your event is to ask yourself, who is the audience and where are they located. If your audience is mainly in the United States, you can go with American Sign Language (ASL). If your audience is Dutch go with NGT (Dutch Sign Language). However, in these times most online events — and especially tech events — reach a worldwide audience, so picking a local sign language excludes a lot of people by default. Luckily there is something called International Sign.

International Sign (IS) is constructed by combining common elements and lexical signs from different sign languages. IS is used in a variety of different contexts, particularly at international meetings, and informally when travelling and socializing. International Sign is a term used by the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) and other international organizations. Deaf people typically know only one sign language. Signers from differing countries may use IS spontaneously with each other, with relative success. This communicative success is linked to various factors. First, people who sign in IS have a certain amount of shared contextual knowledge. Secondly, signers may take advantage of shared knowledge of a spoken language, such as English. Thirdly, communication is made easier by the use of iconic signs and visual resources.

You need more than one interpreter

Do not interact with the interpreters during the live show

When there are technical difficulties, inform the interpreters that they can pause until further notice.

As producer you can help!

Size matters

What & how?

1 — Preparation

Know the content ahead of time

  • The content per session Share the abstract and slides of every session prior to the event. This is very helpful to understand the context and intent of the talk.
  • List of names Share with the interpreters the names of presenters, moderators and participants who have an active role in the event, so they will know how to spell the names of everyone correctly.

Taking turns

Test the setup

In the test session check the camera setup, the audio for the interpreters (is it clear and not distorted), their lighting (no shadows on face or hands), and the size of the interpreter’s insert on the screen. Ask the team to use identical colored backgrounds (preferably blue or grey), and always ask the interpreters for tips to improve the experience for the viewer.

Practice also taking turns in the test session.

Create a back channel

Communication

  • Use the icon for sign language interpretation on your website / for the sessions or tracks that will have interpretation, helping participants build their schedule accordingly.
  • In your event promotion, share that there’ll be interpretation and into which language. Some event platforms allow you to specify what accessibility features you’re offering participants. One of those platforms is confs.tech.

2 — Run

The interpreters will inform you what their anticipated schedule is: who will start and when switching can be expected. The interpreters will interpret everything they hear, from communication, comments to obvious sounds.

3 — Debrief

When publishing your event recordings, clearly state the availability of sign language interpretation so that deaf viewers are able to find the accessible information.

Resources

Online conference with IS

Read more

Microsoft Azure

Any language.

Henk Boelman

Written by

Cloud Advocate 🥑 at @azureadvocates | #Microsoft | Former #AI MVP | #Umbraco MVP | #AzureThursday, #GlobalAIBootcamp #GlobalAINight

Microsoft Azure

Any language. Any platform. Our team is focused on making the world more amazing for developers and IT operations communities with the best that Microsoft Azure can provide. If you want to contribute in this journey with us, contact us at medium@microsoft.com

Henk Boelman

Written by

Cloud Advocate 🥑 at @azureadvocates | #Microsoft | Former #AI MVP | #Umbraco MVP | #AzureThursday, #GlobalAIBootcamp #GlobalAINight

Microsoft Azure

Any language. Any platform. Our team is focused on making the world more amazing for developers and IT operations communities with the best that Microsoft Azure can provide. If you want to contribute in this journey with us, contact us at medium@microsoft.com

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