Ensure that the signer is easy to see and read


Signing involves not just broad arm and hand movements, but also many subtle clues and features, particularly involving fingers and lip and face movements and expressions, which must be clearly seen in order to understand the meaning. This is a particular issue with translations delivered in an ‘open’ format, where the signer takes up only a small part of the television screen, making their hands and facial features appear relatively small.

Directions and techniques

Capture the full signing space (high priority)

The full signing space around the signer should be visible at all times. For most sign languages this extends from well below the waist to above the head and at least an elbow width to the side.

Ensure that the signer is shown large enough to be seen and understood (high priority)

The signer should appear on the screen at a sufficient size and resolution to enable viewers at normal viewing distances to clearly see and accurately recognise all movements and facial expressions.

This requirement is difficult to quantify in terms of an adequate proportion of the picture, because it depends on the size of the viewer’s screen, their viewing distance and their visual acuity. The practical recommendation provided by Ofcom in the UK in the context of standard definition television is that the signer should be no smaller than one sixth of the picture. Nevertheless, and perhaps unsurprisingly, research suggests that sign language users prefer larger signers.

Closed sign language interpreting delivered in a receiver mix format, may allow individual viewers may be able to resize and position the signer according to personal preferences, if their receiver equipment provides that functionality. However, the source video stream needs to be captured and encoded at a suitable base resolution, size and compression so as not to lose vital features in the image. For example, if the resolution is too coarse so that lip and mouth movements, or even fingers, are blurred out, then simply rendering this picture at a much larger size will not restore these missing features.

For open sign language interpreting of programmes primarily aimed at members of the Deaf community, the main visual image can be reduced in size leaving a blank area in which the signer can be placed.

Use colours of clothing and background that are easy to distinguish (high priority)

The colours and tones of the signer’s clothing and background should be such that all movements can easily be seen. Lighting has a large part to play in this.

Position the signer to avoid obscuring important content

Avoid obscuring any important activity. The traditional position for a signer, at the lower right hand side of the screen, may not be appropriate for programmes where important activity most often occurs in that area. To avoid obscuring subtitles or scrolling news tickers, it may be necessary to move the signer up a little from the bottom edge.