Sign of the future

The world of broadcast media offers an increasingly rich source of employment opportunities for Deaf graduates and professionals. However, the constant communication through written English can prove a barrier for sign language users.

Sign Media, an innovative project funded with support from the European Commission, has been launched to design an online learning tool for Deaf people working in the media industry.

With the support of the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Union, the Sign Media project aims to break down these barriers with an innovative and accessible online learning resource, promoting career development and a new level of confidence for Deaf media professionals.

The Sign Media project

The University of Wolverhampton is leading the Sign Media project, valued at nearly half a million Euros, with partners from universities in Italy and Austria and UK media industry experts.

Director for the Institute of Media Arts at the University, Samantha Hope, is project managing Sign Media, drawing on expertise from across the School of Law, Social Sciences and Communications and School of Art & Design. She explains that sign language in each country is different, but with a similar linguistic structure and that this structure is distinct from written English.

"The media sector, especially with the development of the internet, is driven more and more by the English language.

"Sign Media delivers an interactive learning experience that teaches elements of written English through sign language. Users will encounter a flexible and engaging learning environment, combining elements of video, animation and game-play. The course will be duplicated in three sign languages; British Sign Language, Italian Sign Language and Austrian Sign Language.

"In addition to communicating with Deaf media professionals in the sign language of their own country, the project will draw on industry relevant information. Samantha explains the team will use real documentation and scenarios from the production process, from pre-production research and scripting through the shooting process to post-production editing, enabling Deaf users to develop language skills that are directly transferrable to their work environment.

"Our target audiences in each country are Deaf media professionals working in the film, video and broadcasting industries. This learning resource will be useful, for instance, to a runner or researcher who wants to progress into production management or an editor or director with aspirations of becoming a producer.

"The aim is to create a learning resource that will benefit Deaf people’s career progression and opportunities within the European media sectors."

The project team

The partner organisations are Klagenfurt University in Austria, the University of Turin in Italy, and Mutt and Jeff Pictures Ltd, UK.

Led by the University of Wolverhampton, each partner will be doing their own filming. In addition, Turin will be taking on the dissemination of the project’s findings while Klagenfurt will manage the Sign Media website and aspects of sustainability.

Louis Neethling, Managing Director of Mutt and Jeff Pictures Ltd from the UK, is on board to direct the filming and ensure a consistent level of quality across the project. Louis, a producer/director professional, is himself Deaf, and aware of the need for such a learning resource.

Other colleagues from the University of Wolverhampton include Dr Jim Davis and Tracy McCoy from the School of Art & Design’s Video & Film Production department. From the School of Law, Social Sciences and Communications, Christine Jolly and John Hay from the Deaf Studies department are joined by retired Deaf Studies lecturer Joan Fleming, who will be acting as a consultant. John Hay is Deaf himself and has worked in the media industry, including for the BBC’s See Hear programme.

New concept

The concept of the learning tool is new and exciting, and Samantha explains Deaf people will be involved to evaluate the success of the product.

"The European funding was awarded because of the innovative aspects of the project - the design of the learning tool and the process of teaching written English through sign language. The learning tool will be interactive and we are looking at developing narrative-based scenarios within a production environment, which will engage and entertain the student. In addition we will be creating an online dictionary providing a lexicon of signs."

The first partner meeting for Sign Media, held in Wolverhampton, was a great success. Further meetings are also planned in Italy and Austria, with a launch event in Brussels at the end of the project. There has already been significant interest in the scheme, with local media coverage and a feature in British Deaf News. The project will be presenting at the UK’s leading Deaf film and TV festival, Deaffest, in May and demonstrating the product at the festival in May 2012, as well as visiting European film festivals.

The need and demand for the new online learning tool is clear. Research by Joan Fleming and John Hay in 2005 highlighted that around 70 per cent of Deaf graduates are working in arts and media related industries, so there is certainly a market for this. But more importantly, the product uses industry relevant terms and scenarios to develop opportunities for Deaf people working in the media.

Samantha adds: "The finished product will enhance the inclusion of Deaf media specialists in the European media industry and help improve their career prospects across Europe. We are delighted to have been awarded this funding, which will enable the University of Wolverhampton with our European and UK partners to make a real difference."

Pictured: Elana Ochse from the University of Turin and Samantha Hope from the University of Wolverhampton





(This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.)