Reaching the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

This should be an easy one, right? You’re a Public Information Officer. You organize press events. You even know about your agency’s translation services. So what do you do when you include members of the deaf and hard of hearing communities in your live messaging? You call in a sign language translator (ASL here in the states, BSL in the old country).

Dust off hands, next problem. Right? Well, not exactly.

You see, I run a sometimes regular Twitterchat on using social media in public health (#sm4ph) and our last chat was all about reaching special, vulnerable and other traditionally under-represented populations using social media. And we had an absolute rock star join us, Neil McDevitt. Neil used to work at FEMA and is now the Executive Director of the Deaf-Hearing Communication Centre. Neil was impressed by the ASL interpreter in New York City during Sandy (Hi Lydia!), less so by the ASL interpretation services done by the Pennsylvania folks. His reasoning?

Both places had the right idea, but the implementation is where the problem came in. Think of that single small recommendation, telling the camera folks to be sure to stay wide shot to get the ASL interpreter. How much further could Pennsylvania’s message have made it? It’s a subtle thing, but something we as seasoned PIOs should know about and take into account.

Of course, as great a job as Lydia did, the bar was recently raised with regards to ASL interpreters. A woman named “Holly” nearly stole the show at this year’s Bonnaroo music festival, signing along with Wu-Tang Clan, among others.


3 thoughts on “Reaching the Deaf and Hard of Hearing”

  1. Hi Jim – nice article!

    You’re right on point – Deaf and hard-of-hearing people use their eyes in much the same way that non-deaf people use our ears. If the television audience cannot see the interpreter, the public safety information is not shared.

    Keeping that interpreter visible on the television screen could become a signal to people who don’t use a signed language, too! Unlike some other countries who routinely include sign language interpreters as part of making the news accessible, the presence of an interpreter on television here in the US means “there’s an emergency, pay attention!”

    1. I’d never considered it that way, Stephanie! What a great idea. Kind of like how the crawl used to be a signal that something was up. Now, if there’s an ASL interpreter, it’s a signal to turn it up and pay attention!

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