A huge societal change during this Pandemic has been that we are all adapting to working from home.  This has meant A LOT of online meetings, via a range of video conferencing platforms.

During this blog, we will take a look at the challenges deaf people face attending meetings remotely.  We will then make recommendations on how to include a deaf person within a video conference.

The challenges of communicating remotely

I am sure, like me, you have been on many online meetings where there has been cross-talking, caused by the slight delay in technology.  The effects on the sound quality from the overlapping talk are considerably worse compared to in person.

As we all take to our computers at home our broadband provision is really being tested.  This is causing pixilation of people’s faces on the screen which can make it exceptionally difficult to lipread.

Deaf people and Sign Language Interpreters

One profession that has really felt this massive change, is the community of Sign Language Interpreters.  Very much used to working face to face with a deaf person.

This has brought around a lot of change in a very short space of time for Interpreters.  Having most likely never worked in this environment before and this is now the only way they are working.

When working face to face, the Interpreter has access to everything that is happening in the room.  The slights of body language and the inferences made by facial expressions.  These additional grammatical features help convey all of this meaning to the deaf person.

When this is delivered in a 2D medium, various elements of the language are compromised.  This makes it more challenging for an interpreter to fulfill their role and for a deaf person to have full access.

There are a number of environments that are not suitable for remote interpreting:

  • Legal; police, criminal
  • Serious medical
  • Mental health
  • Tribunals/Protection of Vulnerable Adults

How to include a deaf person in a video conference

  • Test the tech with the deaf person and Interpreter beforehand
  • If the deaf person will be lipreading throughout the meeting, you will want to include numbers of participants in this test so that you can create a live meeting environment
  • Make sure you have a Chair for the meeting and make introductions at the start
  • Set out some guidelines for communication from the start
  • Check with the deaf person whether they have worked with an Interpreter remotely before? This is a whole new experience for Interpreters and also many deaf people, so be mindful of this
  • Introduce how you will take turns, and what functionality you will use
    • I have attended meetings where people raise their hand physically to request a turn and also use the features in the platform to ‘raise hand’
    • Leave gaps for the Interpreter to indicate the change in speaker

Preparing the Interpreter

  • Prepare the interpreter for the meeting; if you have an agenda, previous meeting notes, a presentation and/or other things that will be shared through the meeting; send these to the Interpreter a couple of days (at least!) before the meeting, so that they are equipped with the language use and terminology
  • Check that the Interpreter has their desktop or laptop plugged in their router via an Ethernet cable to ensure the connection is smooth throughout the meeting. This will avoid any pixilation of Sign Language
  • Due to the time lag during the interpretation, there is a risk of the deaf person being unable to participate, especially in a remote environment where this is exacerbated. Agree how this participation will happen before the meeting
  • The Interpreter should pin the deaf person and the deaf person should pin the interpreter so that they can always see one another on-screen. Remember that the tech will follow the sound
  • To avoid background noise, ensure that all microphones are muted apart from the person who is speaking
  • Make sure that the interpreter is also on mute unless they need to voice over for the deaf person making a comment
  • You will need to consider numbers of participants. Interpreters have recommended that numbers should be capped at 10 max.  Anything above this number makes turn-taking incredibly challenging
  • Keep your meeting to one-hour, remote interpreting is far more pressured compared to face to face interpreting. You will find that a one-hour call will also work for the deaf person, who will also be concentrating
  • If you require a longer meeting, you will need to book two Interpreters and discuss with the interpreting team and the deaf person how the interpreting changeovers will happen

Here is some additional guidance that you can refer to:

National Occupational Standards for Interpreting Review these are the National Occupational Standards that Interpreters will be working from.

Best Video Conferencing Apps and Software For Accessibility – This article discusses the advantages and disadvantages of the various platforms

This detailed checklist will give you all you need to include a deaf person in a video conference/meeting.

If you have any questions whatsoever, we would love to help…

 
UPDATE
 
Zoom have now added accessibility features that make it easier for Sign Language Interpreters to stay visible on the screen.
Please read more here