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British Sign Language or Subtitles for D/deaf access?

Published: 5 Jun 2023

With this week being Deaf Awareness Week we thought we’d answer a common question – why a D/deaf person would need BSL and/or subtitles? 

The answer is it depends on the D/deaf person’s first or preferred language.

You might also be wondering what’s with the capital/lower case spelling of ‘D/deaf’? The term D/deaf is used to describe people who are Deaf (British Sign Language users who consider themselves part of the Deaf community) and deaf (who are hard of hearing but who have English as their first language and may lip-read and/or use hearing aids). 

Big ‘D’ Deaf people overwhelmingly use BSL as their first or preferred language so we provide BSL signers/interpreters on our multimedia tours, whereas a small ‘d’ deaf person will most likely have English as their first language and therefore prefers reading English subtitles as they may not even use sign language.

We encourage Museums to review their accessibility for D/deaf visitors, particularly of audio and visual materials which are often a significant part of exhibitions and methods of interpretation. Having text descriptions doesn’t necessarily mean content is accessible to all D/deaf people either as they may not understand written English that well so incorporating BSL is a really important mission.

Many Museums put on BSL tours on ’special’ days, and although this is a positive thing – it isn’t a truly ‘inclusive’ approach, what happens when a D/deaf person wants to visit on the day the BSL tours aren’t on (which let’s be honest is the majority of days)? Our clients address that issue by providing BSL signers and subtitles of tours on our visitor multimedia guides and apps, which are available everyday – what an inclusive welcome for D/deaf visitors!

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