These are my notes from the presentation 'Unheard Stories – Improving access for Deaf visitors' by Linda Ellis at the MCG Spring Conference. There's some background to my notes about the conference in a previous post.
This was a two year project, fit around their other jobs [and more impressive for that]. The project created British Sign Language video guides for Bantock House. The guides are available on mp3 players and were filmed on location.
Not all 'deaf' people are the same – there's a distinction between 'deaf' and 'Deaf'. The notation 'd/Deaf' is often used. Deaf people use sign language as their first language and might not know English; deaf people probably become deaf later in life, and English is their first language. The syntax of British Sign Language (BSL) is different to English syntax. Deaf people will generally use BSL syntax, but deaf people might use signs with English grammar. Not all d/Deaf people can lip-read.
Deaf people are one of the most excluded groups in our society. d/Deaf people can be invisible in society as it's not obvious if someone is d/Deaf. British sign language was only recognised as an official language in March 2003.
Their Deaf visitors said they wanted:
Concise written information; information in BSL; to explore exhibits independently; stories about local people and museum objects; events just for Deaf people (and dressing up, apparently).
Put videos on website to tell people what to expect when they visit. But think about what you put on website – they're Deaf, not stupid, and can read addresses and opening hours, etc. Put a mobile number on publicity so that Deaf people can text about events – it's cheap and easy to do but can make a huge difference. If you're doing audience outreach with social software, don't just blog – think about putting signed videos on YouTube. Use local Deaf people, not interpreters. Provide d/Deaf awareness training for all staff and volunteers. Provide written alternatives to audio guides; add subtitles and an English voice over signed video if you can afford it.