Crowd-sourcing the translation of museum content into sign language?

We've been thinking about crowd-sourcing some British Sign Language (BSL) content for the Science Museum for a while now, particularly as we're running events with BSL interpreters and a new site ('Brought to Life') with some BSL content is due to launch in March. This post is both an attempt to think through some of the issues, and a question open to all – what do you think?

The idea
There are two related options – asking the public to share their translations of English text on the Science Museum websites or galleries into BSL with us, or asking people to contribute new content in BSL. Translations could include content like object captions (to view online or download to portable devices to take into the museum), exhibition information and interpretation, instructions for games like Launchpad – any existing content online or in the galleries.

Why it could be useful
Linda Ellis gave a presentation at the UK Museums Computer Group (MCG) meeting on 'Unheard Stories – Improving access for Deaf visitors' where she pointed out the distinctions between 'deaf' and 'Deaf', including that Deaf people use sign language as their first language and might not know English while deaf people probably become deaf later in life and English is their first language. Linda also said that Deaf people are one of the most excluded groups in our society. Deaf visitors surveyed for the Wolverhampton Arts and Museums Service 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).

(More notes on Linda's presentation and a link to her slides are in this earlier post).

I saw a great example of BSL content in museums at the 2009 Jodi Awards. The British Museum worked with the Frank Barnes School and media company Remark on a project where young deaf people produced signed curriculum resources for young deaf people. You can find out more and watch the videos at British Sign Language videos about the Museum.

Video goes mainstream?
One uncertainty is whether possible contributors would be comfortable creating and uploading video. The popularity of products like 'You Tube ready' digital compact cameras and the Flip would suggest that consumers are comfortable with the idea of creating and sharing video online.

The 2008 Horizon Report suggested 'grassroots video' will be adopted in one year or less:

Video is everywhere—and almost any device that can access the Internet can play (and probably capture) it. From user-created clips and machinima to creative mashups to excerpts from news or television shows, video has become a popular medium for personal communication. Editing and distribution can be done easily with affordable tools, lowering the barriers for production. Ubiquitous video capture capabilities have literally put the ability to record events in the hands of almost everyone. Once the exclusive province of highly trained professionals, video content production has gone grassroots.

In terms of understanding the context and perhaps expecting video online, a report The Valley looks towards 2009 in the BBC quotes Jim Patterson, product manager at YouTube, saying:

"This generation of users utilize the web differently and consume video differently. They grew up in an environment where digital, interactive media was ubiquitous. It has shaped how they use the web."

And Mr Patterson said this new video generation has also shaped the very nature of how YouTube is being used.

"Comscore is estimating that YouTube is the second largest search engine," he said.

"To this cohort, YouTube is their search engine. YouTube 'is' the web. Seeking the answer to any question, they prefer that the result be expressed as a video, so they go to YouTube."

That last point – "YouTube is their search engine. YouTube 'is' the web" – is pretty damn important, regardless of any other issues around museum content.

My questions

  • Am I imagining a need that isn't there? Are there enough people with British Sign Language as a first language who are interested in content at the Science Museum to make the project worthwhile? Is BSL content about particular objects or exhibitions something d/Deaf visitors would find useful?
  • Would anyone out there be interested in creating this content?
  • Is there enough acceptance of internet video? Is it easy enough for the public to produce and upload their own videos?

What do you think?

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