Why do deaf people need a sign language version of a document?

EHRC report out today:

What formats are available?
The full report is available in PDF and
Microsoft Word formats in English. An
executive summary of the report is available
in English (PDF and Word), Welsh (PDF
and Word), Easy Read (PDF) and British
Sign Language (digital video) formats.
All of the above may be found at

Well, OK, speaking only Welsh is a disability so why not. And easy read for those having problems with eyesight. And I could imagine a spoken version for the blind if you want to go that far (although there’s plenty of programs that can do that automatically, aren’t there?).

But why in buggery do deaf people need a sign language version of a written document?

Unless, of course, someone’s niece is a sign language interpreter.

22 thoughts on “Why do deaf people need a sign language version of a document?”

  1. It’s just like talking books for people who can read…

    But we pay for talking books ourselves, should we wish to use one.

  2. A lot of deaf people are illiterate through a combination of terrible but fashionable and progressive education techniques and just that its hard to learn any language if you can’t practice conversation.

  3. Occasionally at ROH Covent Garden they employ a sign language interpreter to stand by the side of the stage and do her stuff interpreting the opera.

    I seems strange that a deaf person would want to concentrate on the signer rather than glance at the surtitles on the screen above the stage while taking in the larger scene, but there you go.

    The whole exercise seems to me to be a bit of box-ticking in order to pick up some government grant for inclusiveness or something.

    One performance I saw with a signer was Madama Butterfly. Now Puccini tends to use lots of percussion in his oriental operas and on this occasion the orchestra had overflowed the pit and taken over a lower tier box next to the stage. Thus, our intrepid signer was stood next to a massive drum and a huge cymbal which the percussionists regularly banged.

    I don’t know if she was hearing impaired before the performance, but after… Still, it could have been worse. it might have been Turandot.

  4. I was going to say they might be blind as well as deaf, so unable to read. But then they wouldn’t be able to see the sign language video. It’s too early; my brain doesn’t kick in until I’ve had my morning cup of tea.

  5. Kevin B,

    Oh, what the fucking fuck?

    As someone who likes a bit of opera, why the fuck would you go if you were deaf? Watching opera for the drama and acting is like asking for PG porn.

    Wouldn’t it be better to just spend the same money on making something for a deaf audience? Romeo and Juliet with sign language, maybe?

  6. Richard: ‘It’s too early; my brain doesn’t kick in until I’ve had my morning cup of tea.’

    Is that a disability? Should you get a slow-release version?

  7. Why a seperate document for people with eyesight problems? I just use the “zoom” facility available in just about 100% of document readers.

  8. Its doing info in their native language.
    There are people fully fluent in BSL whose ability in English is like a child. Reading English and understanding it when you have never been taught it very well… very hard to do.

    Those of us taught English as a first language have the advantage in reading English documents. Those who spent many years learning to cope in a hearing world, who had to spend time learning lipreading rather than anything more important – can be at a considerable disadvantage with paperwork, leaflets etc.

  9. “Occasionally at ROH Covent Garden they employ a sign language interpreter to stand by the side of the stage and do her stuff interpreting the opera.”

    Well, blow me down. I thought that person was a dancer. Y’know like Bez.

  10. Actually the Easy Read version is for people with learning disabilities. They generally break the document down in to simple statements with helpful pictures.

    If you want to see some examples, MenCap have some Easy Read versions of the 2015 election manifestos here : https://www.mencap.org.uk/easymanifestos

  11. Inexplicably, there are deaf people who are ‘illiterate’, if we take that to mean they cannot read or write in English, but who are functionally literate in BSL – particularly those raised in families where deafness is inherited and congenital.

  12. Stigler, if your partner loves opera but you yourself are deaf, might you not attend along with your partner as part of the “doing stuff together” routine?

  13. operas are written by foreigners who wave their arms about a lot.
    Locals might feel the need to have this translated into Auslan

  14. Many people find it difficult to comprehend that sign languages are actual languages. BSL is not English expressed through mime. Those conversant in BSL may have little or no knowledge of English. For British people completely deaf from birth, learning written English is akin to learning a foreign language.

    British and American sign language are not mutually intelligible as ASL developed from French sign language. An American would find it easier to communicate in sign langauge with a French or indeed a Japanese deaf person than a British one.

    Thus a BSL video version of an English document is justifiable though in the case of pudlic sector organisations I would expect that they produce such versions in a desparate attempt to tick as many diversity boxes as possible without first ascertaining whether there is in fact any demand or necessity for such a version.

  15. Seconding what Zebura said about many deaf people being semi-literate, partly through bad teaching (deaf children are a perfect captive audience for whatever is the currently fashionable educational fad) plus the inherent difficulties of learning written English when it isn’t being reinforced by hearing spoken English.

  16. In the U.S., universities are starting to push their faculty to add subtitles to the videos they post for online classes.

    But many of those are actually videos of previous lectures given in classrooms. If we’re going to retroactively add subtitles to those, how long until we’re required to have an ASL person in each (live) class?

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