Casey staff along with Trainers from HearFirst
At the end of August, we held an Introduction to British Sign Language one-day course at our offices in Rochdale.
The course, held by HearFirst, was a fun day that didn’t just teach us some basic sign language that was relevant to what we do, but also made us aware of the things we need to think about when dealing with and communicating with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
We realised that there were some really practical considerations to take into account and we thought we’d share some of what we learned.
What is British Sign Language (BSL)?
BSL is a living language (meaning it is still evolving just as English is), used by about 100,000 deaf people in Britain. It is also used by hearing people to communicate with deaf people, and by BSL interpreters.
It is a visual gestural, language in terms of both its production and perception. Body and head posture, facial expression and lip movements all play a distinctive role in contributing to meaning. As with English, there are some regional variations—a sign used in Manchester might be different to the sign used in London.
Sign language is not a literal translation of English—it has its own grammar, contexts and rules. Generally, not so many words are used to make up a sentence and they may be placed in a different order to English. Because of this, some deaf people may have some difficulty understanding written text.
So, what are the practical issues?
Things to Know:
- Sign language is not another form of English; it is an official language with its own grammar, contexts and rules.
- Lip reading, while helpful, is only 30%-50% effective, and sometimes less.
- Long conversations can be very fatiguing to the person who is lip-reading.
- Not all persons who are deaf use sign language.
- Not all persons who are deaf write and read.
- Not all persons who are deaf speak.
- Not all persons who are deaf lip-read.
Things to Do:
- Find out how the person best communicates.
- If the person uses an interpreter, address the person, not the interpreter.
- If the person reads lips, speak in a normal, not exaggerated way. Short, simple sentences are best.
- If the person lip-reads, ensure that your face is in a good light.
- Gain their attention before starting a conversation.
- If there is some doubt in your mind whether they understood you correctly, rephrase your statement and ask them if you have been understood.
- Try to use an expressive face
Things to Avoid:
- Do not become impatient or exasperated with the person if it takes longer to communicate.
- Make sure there are no physical barriers between you. Face the deaf person at all times..
- If the person is using hearing aids, avoid conversations in large, open and noisy surroundings. Do not shout but speak clearly and try to remove the background noise. Hard flooring and bare walls cause reverberation and echo. Carpets and soft furnishings help to absorb unwanted sounds.
Things to Consider:
- Persons who may deal very well one-on-one in communication may have a hard time with two or more speakers, especially if there are many interruptions and interjections.
- Showing impatience to someone who is deaf or hearing impaired may cause the less assertive to back off from telling you of their needs.
- When someone asks, “What did you say?”, repeat your question. The answers, “Never mind,” “Nothing,” or “It’s not important,” can imply that the person is not worth repeating yourself for.
- Make sure you have good signage and visual information—if you want people to know about it, make sure they can see it.
- Make sure the deaf person knows what you are talking about—it will help them anticipate the likely vocabulary. Let them know if you are going to change the subject.
Working with Interpreters:
When working with interpreters, there are some practical considerations that should be taken into account to ensure that you get the best from the session.
Preparation It is beneficial to send any relevant papers or materials to the Interpreter at least one or two weeks before the assignment. On late bookings, emailing or faxing the information will still be beneficial. Be aware that the Interpreter will be impartial throughout the assignment.
Briefing Fifteen minutes before the assignment begins, hold a short briefing with the Interpreter to go through the events or topics that need translating. Also use this time to arrange positioning of bodies and the use of lighting. If any handouts are being distributed, ensure the Interpreter has a copy as they may need to refer to them.
Breaks The job of an Interpreter is both physically and mentally challenging, due to the nature of their role. Breaks should be scheduled roughly every half hour, but this can vary depending on the Interpreter’s experience. If an assignment is expected to last over two hours, you may need to book two interpreters. You can ask advice on how many you will need.
Positioning When positioning the Interpreter, ask the deaf person their preference. Usually, the Interpreter is positioned next to the main speaker and opposite the deaf person. Try to position everyone so that sunshine and shadow does not fall on the Interpreter’s or the deaf person’s face.
Flipcharts, projectors etc When using any resource material, bear in mind that the deaf person’s attention will be on the Interpreter, so allow a slight pause so they can view the required information.
Speaking Always speak to the deaf person rather than to the Interpreter eg, “Do you have any questions?” rather than “Does he have any questions?”
Booking an Interpreter There is some specialisation, so make sure you book the right interpreter for the job. It is recommended that you book up to 8 weeks in advance.
For more information, go to www.hearfirst.org.uk