1. Introduction
2. Methodology
3. Signing Books for Children
4. Signing Books for Students
5. Signing Books for Adults
6. Conclusions

1. Introduction

1.1 Signing Books for the Deaf
1.2 Sign Language, Deaf culture, education of Deaf children, and the need for signing books in the countries of the EU
1.3 Objectives of this workpackage

1.1 Signing Books for the Deaf

The preferred language of deaf (1) persons is a sign language. In several European countries, the national sign language is recognised by law as the first language of persons who are born deaf, or who become deaf at an early age - the 'early deaf'. The number of deaf and severely hard of hearing persons is roughly estimated to be 0.05 % of the population (Kyle & Allsop, 1998). The number of sign language users is unknown (World Federation of the Deaf, 1993).

Although the general public is rarely aware of this, many early deaf can be considered print impaired for two reasons. First: reading and writing are generally considered to be secondary skills that are highly dependent on a good command of the primary skills: speaking and understanding the language that is to be read. Because of their deafness, many early deaf do not acquire a spoken language well enough to be able to learn to read and write well. Secondly, there is no generally accepted writing system for sign languages, so early deaf persons are unable to read texts and books in their preferred language, a sign language.

However, in many countries, videotapes (and more recently, CD-ROMs and other electronic media) are being produced as an alternative to printed texts for deaf sign language users. The videotapes show text in sign language, often in combination with printed text (captions, or text screens) as well as visuals (static or moving pictures) and sound (the original soundtrack, or a voice-over). For this project, these videotapes have been named "Signing Books", in analogy to the "Talking Books" for the blind. For many early deaf persons, signing books and signed television programmes are the only means to independent and equal access to general information and hearing culture. At the same time, it is the only means available to record signed information and culture from the Deaf Community, for future reference and/or for distribution to a larger audience.

In most EU countries, signing book productions are still largely semi-professional or amateur, 'ad-hoc' productions, made by schools for the deaf, organisations for the deaf, or organisations of parents of deaf children. Most of these productions are only marketed on a local or regional level. There is no framework for international or even national co-operation. Organisations in this field (producers, publishers, intermediate users and end-users) are often unaware of development and production activities in other countries. Research on the effectiveness (cost-effectiveness and usability) of productions is practically non-existent.

The objective of this project is to develop guidelines for the production and distribution of signing books. To this end, the consortium has collected data on the current state of the art: what productions are available; how they were made and why; who the producers, publishers, intermediary and end-users are; as well as data concerning the cost-effectiveness and usability of these productions. The results are described in this deliverable.

At the beginning of the project, it was decided that the project would limit itself to sign language videos (and other media) developed for deaf people. Videos produced to teach sign language, videos produced for sign language research purposes, and bilingual dictionaries are therefore beyond the scope of this project.

1.2 Sign Language, Deaf culture, education of Deaf children, and the need for signing books in the countries of the EU

In 1996, the European Union of the Deaf obtained a grant from the European Parliament to examine the situation with respect to sign languages and to promote sign language in all Member States. The work was concluded late in 1997. Unless otherwise indicated, data on sign languages in Europe, the arrangements which society makes for the use of sign language, and the information needs of deaf people in this deliverable have been taken from this report (Kyle & Allsop, 1998).

Kyle and Allsop describe sign language as the language of deaf people; a language of space and movement using the hands, body, face and head. They add: 'There is no doubt that sign languages should have the full status of "languages". They fulfil all requirements for a human language (such as using small numbers of basic units to produce potentially infinite numbers of varied utterances, or being able to talk about events distant in pace or time.' (page 19)

Although all sign languages use space and movement, sign language is not universal. Each country has its own sign language and some countries have several. Information presented in one sign language, will only be understood by the users of that sign language. For international meetings, deaf people sometimes use 'International Sign', but this is not a complete sign language; it is a limited communication code that uses a limited number of basic, iconic, signs and gestures.

Deaf children growing up in a family or community of sign language users develop language normally, with the same 'naturalness' and speed as hearing children learn a spoken language. In a community of sign language users, deaf adults experience no barriers in communication. Many deaf persons therefore do not consider themselves communication or language disabled, but prefer to be seen as users of a minority language: a sign language.

For the past 100 years, most schools for the deaf have used an oral approach, teaching deaf children solely through speech and lipreading. Signing has been discouraged, or even prohibited. Since the 1970's however, more and more schools have changed to a Total Communication policy, and - in the 1990's - to a bilingual policy. Total Communication Schools - in general - allow children to sign, although the code used by teachers is a signed version of the spoken language: sign supported speech (Signed English, Signed German, etc.). Bilingual Schools see sign language as the first, native, language of deaf children, and the spoken language of the community as a second language. Since there is - as yet - no generally accepted writing system for sign languages or for sign-supported speech, both TC and Bilingual education can only offer information in sign language or in signed supported speech through live instruction or on videotape. For research purposes and in other printed texts, signs are sometimes represented by means of 'glosses'. A gloss is an approximate translation of the sign into a word from the spoken language. Glosses are usually printed in capital letters to indicate that the print refers to a sign, and not a word from the spoken language.

Most deaf children are born in hearing families (only 5% of all deaf children have both parents deaf, another 5% may have one parent deaf; up to 20% will have a deaf brother or sister; Kyle & Allsop, 1998, page 12). In the past, deaf children from hearing families did not learn sign language until they met other deaf children in a school for the deaf, and sometimes were not exposed to sign language until adulthood. At present, the situation with respect to sign language use in families, in schools, and in the media varies within country, school, and even family. As with all languages, the later in life a person learns a sign language, the more difficult it is to acquire that language with the complete and automatic command of the native user of that language. If a person does not acquire any language - sign or spoken - during the early years, then it becomes very difficult to acquire any language at all later in life.

If there is no reason to suspect a hearing loss in a child, deafness is usually not diagnosed until a child is 1 year old, and often not until much later. Parents and relatives are often advised to use signs to assist communication with the child (either sign language, or sign supported speech). Since most hearing people do not know sign language, parents will have to learn the signs they need to communication with their child. In many cases, the child will learn signing faster than the parents.

Because of the changes in education policy with respect to sign language over the past 30 years, the language level of deaf people varies - with respect to sign language, spoken language, and reading and writing. Sign language nevertheless is the preferred language of most early deaf, and is now officially recognised by law as the first language of the early deaf in several countries.

In theory, deaf persons can access all information - if it is presented to them in sign language. In practice, the situation is not quite that simple. To quote the 'Sign on Europe' report (Kyle & Allsop, 1998):

Access to information is commonly seen as a priority but it is problematic for Deaf people. The reason is simple: there is as yet no good means of disseminating information in a sign language form other than in live presentation. In order to obtain information Deaf people have to attend lectures. Videotapes with instructional material are not effective or convenient as they are wholly linear in overall structure - the viewer has to play the tape from the beginning to the end and in the correct sequence. This makes it more time-consuming to extract information from fixed sources. It is also the case that the information is presented in a person-specific form - that is, the signing has to be done by a person whose face is visible and so none of the information is presented in a neutral way as is the case for written or voiced-over material on television. Compared to hearing people's access to books, Deaf people are much worse off in their use of video. (..)

For hearing people, the explosion in knowledge which came from the invention of printing was in having available a non-linear means of information gathering. A book can be opened on any page and the reader can move around almost at will. Books are readable anywhere. On the other hand, signing books are often translations of spoken text or are insertions of interpreted text in programmes made for hearing people. It would seem that other than in Denmark, where there has been a stronger tradition of use of this medium, the videotapes that are currently in circulation are having a rather limited impact." (page 10)

1.3 Objectives of this workpackage

In theory, Deaf people experience no barriers in communication and in access to information if a sign language is used. In practice, as stated above, there are still a considerable number of obstacles:

The objective of the Signing Books project is to increase the quality and quantity of signing books available in EU-countries. We hope to do this by collecting good and bad examples, by developing guidelines for effective and efficient production and distribution of signing books, and by making this information as widely available as possible. As a first step towards this objective, an inventory has been made of the state of the art: what signing books are currently available in the EU-countries.

In workpackage 3 of this project, information was collected with respect to:

  1. The product: what signing books are available in the countries of the European Union; what they are like; what they have in common; what the differences are; good and bad examples
  2. The process: how and by whom signing books are made, financed, sold, and used.
  3. The stakeholders: who the producers, publishers, distributors and users of signing books are.

Since very little information is available with respect to signing books in Europe, a description of the product; production and distribution; and stakeholders is valuable in and of itself. A second objective of this workpackage, however, is to provide input for workpackages 5 and 6: the development of prototypes and the testing of these prototypes with users. On the basis of the data collected in workpackage 3, several unresolved issues will be selected that need further research before consensus can be reached on recommendations and guidelines.

In chapter 2, the general methodology of the data collection activities will be described. In chapters 3, 4 and 5 the results will be described for each of the three target groups: deaf children, students and adults. In chapter 6 the results for the three target groups will be summarised.


(1) In the literature, Deaf - with capital D - is generally used to refer to those persons who identify themselves with the deaf community. In this document, however, deaf - with lowercase d - will be used throughout because many sources have been used that do not make this distinction.