Pretty Simple: web, digital, social

This week (4th – 10th May 2009) is Deaf Awareness Week. This year’s theme, “Look At Me”, aims to:

improve understanding of the different types of deafness by highlighting the many different methods of communication used by deaf, deafened, deafblind and hard of hearing people, such as sign language and lipreading.

Deaf Awareness Week website –

For a while now I’ve been working on a business case to pilot a project, offering key content from our website in the form of video of a British Sign Language interpreter. The following is an extract from that business case, explaining why such content could be valuable:

Scotland has an estimated 758,000 deaf or hard of hearing individuals (according to RNID stats). Of those, 57,000 are severely or profoundly deaf, and may use British Sign Language (BSL) as their first or preferred language (usually the case where the individual has been deaf since birth or early in life). A report by CLAN Edinburgh estimates the number of BSL first language users in Edinburgh to be 1,000 – 1,500 . This compares with 1,698 registered blind persons in Edinburgh in 2003 (by Scottish Government figures).

Individuals who have BSL as their first language may find it harder to read written English, as concepts unique to BSL can interfere with the learning process. Differences include word order, inflexion of verbs and lack of certain articles.

The Government officially recognised BSL on 18th March 2003.

Many organisations offer key online content in video format, with an interpreter delivering the content in BSL. An excellent example of this can be found on the British Deaf Association website. This is also increasingly being implemented by a number of local authorities.

Screenshot of a BSL video

Screenshot of a BSL video from the BDA website

A Scottish Government 2005 report on access to public services for BSL users suggested a serious lack of use of certain key areas, including social services, education and libraries. 54% of the people asked felt that they never accessed services from their Council.

Comments included:

  • “We need more BSL information on the Internet like Deafstation.”
  • “I think getting the information from the computer would build more confidence for Deaf people…”
  • “Now we look for any web site that has BSL information, since Deaf people are interested in that website…It is more important to have BSL on the website.”

Offering certain key content in BSL Video format via the website represents one of a range of accessibility features which can enhance the inclusiveness of the website. It will help us engage with its deaf community, showing ourselves to be proactive in addressing their needs.


Target audience

The intended audience for the video content would be all individuals for whom benefit would be derived in accessing the information in this format, over and above the traditional online formats. Primarily this would be individuals who use BSL as their first language, but other groups who could benefit include:

  • the blind and partially-sighted (assuming audio description is included)
  • those with low literacy or other primary language
  • those with a learning disability such as dyslexia

Secondary audience

It is also expected that the general public and professionals, both locally and nationally, will have some degree of interest in the videos.


Encourages Inclusion for all

Such content would continue the efforts of the Council to be socially inclusive by improving the accessibility of one of its key channels of communication with its citizens. This could be measured by comparing usability results prior to and following implementation, as carried out with volunteers from the BSL community. It is expected that accessibility should be significantly improved for these individuals.

Provides a precedent

If successful the project would provide a compelling precedent for similar future developments. Video content can also be utilised for the benefit of citizens with other needs, as outlined above.

Exemplifies Best Practice efforts

The project would offer evidence of best practice in regards to accessibility and inclusion, and could be high-profile and prominent enough to encourage national interest and favourable coverage.


Cost of video production

Due to the high cost of producing video content, it would be difficult to amend or update, or to produce new content.

Increased demand for more BSL content

If the initial video content proves successful, this could generate requests for other information to be made available.

Increased demand for similar audio/video content

This approach could benefit citizens with other needs, such as individuals with dyslexia, low literacy or English as a second language.

No guarantee of service

Where a third party service (such as YouTube) is used to host the video content, no contract of service exists. Therefore, no guarantee can be secured regarding the permanence, availability or quality of service offered. No recourse is possible in the event of loss of such service, and a contingency plan is necessary in the event of such loss of service.

Project underway!

The project is now underway, and I’ve made contact with a local deaf literacies worker who will give us support in making the videos. We have a dedicated Audio/Visual unit who can produce high quality video, and have started work on identifying the sort of information we want to present in this format.

Once we’ve launched I’ll blog about here, of course. In the meantime, I’d be really interested to hear from other organisations who are looking at, or already doing, this on your website.

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4 Responses to Deaf Awareness Week and BSL video online

  1. Gary Miller says:


    “Increased demand for more BSL content

    If the initial video content proves successful, this could generate requests for other information to be made available.”

    Sure, this could incur more financial outlay. But, wouldn’t the fact that the increased interest might mean that users are sufficiently interested in your services to want more information? Thereby, possibly, leading to an increase in ROI?

    I know you work in the Public Sector…I was just thinking of the private sector.

    • James says:

      Yes you’re right Gary – increased interest in such content would be a brilliant thing in either sector (it’s down as a benefit too), but it’s also a risk because we have limited resources and need to mitigate against raising user expectations beyond our capabilities.

      Imagine the potential bad press: “Council promotes adult education to the deaf community, but doesn’t bother telling them about child protection”. For that reason I’m working on a sustainability plan which will look at how we roll out the videos across the organisation, if the pilot is deemed a success.

      Watch this space!

  2. Bob Duncan says:

    Dear James

    I came across your blog purely by chance through our good friend Google. As you’re based in Edinburgh, I thought you might be interested in what we’re doing at BSL:UPTAKE, based at Heriot -Watt University – Please feel free to get in touch with my direct email address to discuss further.

    All the best.
    Bob Duncan
    Project Officer

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