The Broadcasting Act 1996 requires the ITC to draw up, and from time to time review, a Code on promoting the understanding and enjoyment of programmes carried on digital terrestrial television (DTT), by persons who are deaf or hard of hearing and blind or partially-sighted. Particular requirements relating to the provision of sign language were also specified in a Statutory Order issued on 28 January 1997. The ITC Code on Subtitling, Sign Language and Audio Description on Digital Terrestrial Television states that Licensees are expected to observe the standards set out in these Guidelines.
The needs of deaf and hard of hearing viewers are wide ranging, from sign language through to subtitles and/or clear sound. Some viewers may be able to cope with all forms of access, whereas others may have or prefer one type only. Some deaf people find it difficult to fully understand information conveyed by subtitling and could therefore benefit significantly from sign language. It was for this reason that requirements for sign language provision on digital terrestrial television were included in the legislation. Most sign language on television should be targeted towards these viewers, whose understanding and enjoyment of programmes is dependent on it.
There are two ways of providing sign language access to programmes:
(i) Presentation. A programme or programme segment may be presented in sign language. In such cases a sign language presenter, narrator or reporter, will provide the main language. The signs must then be interpreted into a “voice over” with the addition of subtitles if applicable. Where a “voice over” is used it should accurately convey the presented sign language.
(ii) Interpretation. Alternatively a person may interpret live or recorded programmes or programme segments. The image of such an interpreter is usually superimposed on a programme. In the legislation, this form of provision is referred to as “translation” into sign language.
In both the above cases either bilingual deaf people or hearing people may be employed.
Although a number of the guidelines below are relevant only to sign language interpretation, broadcasters should remember that the presentation of programmes in sign language and programmes for deaf people (eg. which combine presentation and interpretation) are both valid methods of meeting the requirements of the Code, and are particularly appreciated by the relevant deaf audience.