April 15-18, 2009
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Demonstrations: Description

On-line videos of Deaf children interpreting the collections in Sign Language

Carolyn Howitt, The British Museum, United Kingdom
Matthew Cock, The British Museum, United Kingdom

The British Museum asked children aged 8 – 10 from Frank Barnes School for the Deaf to sign interpret some key highlights from their collections. The results are displayed as online videos.

British Sign Language (BSL) is the first language of nearly 70,000 deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK. It uses hand shapes and movement and facial expression to convey meaning. It even has its own grammar, vocabulary and regional variations. It is significantly different to American Sign Language, used in the USA and Canada.

The BSL school project was planned as a second strand to a project whereby the British Museum had 20 key objects from the collections sign interpreted in BSL on the Explore section of the website. In addition to this core resource for adults, we wanted to have some provision for deaf children, by deaf children. It was hoped that as well as being a useful resource for deaf schools, pupils in hearing schools would also find it of interest to see pupils communicating in such a different way to themselves. As far as we are aware, no other museum internationally has completed a project of this nature.

The aims of both parts of the project were as follows:

  • To combat exclusion by creating a resource for deaf adults and children
  • To encourage more deaf and hard of hearing people to engage with the British Museum and its collections – both real and virtual
  • To make hearing visitors, both children and adults, more aware of deaf visitors and the importance of BSL

Aims specific to the children’s part of the website:

  • To involve a group from the target audience in online content creation
  • To select objects which are dynamic and interesting to deaf children and which they may have a unique take on.

Frank Barnes school was approached because it is a local London school in the same borough as the Museum (Camden), and because it is the only deaf school in London which has a sign bilingual policy. We also used a local company called Remark! to do the filming. Remark! is managed and run by deaf people. Specialists in filming in BSL, they were invaluable in both the quality of their work, and in aiding communication with the children.

Three groups of children were filmed, fifteen in total. The school was involved in choosing the topics of the Assyrian Palace Lion Hunts, the Parthenon Temple and Masks from Africa. The topics supported those already being studied by the children in their classrooms. The children wrote their own scripts beforehand. They were prepared by school visits from Museum staff and by being sent resources and information. When they came to the Museum, before filming they met the curators and were able to ask them questions. Staff from the Schools team helped to look after them when they weren’t being filmed, and they all enjoyed their time in the Museum hugely. The team effort that went into the project was incredible and helped to ensure its success.

Demonstration: Demonstrations 2 [Close Up]

Keywords: deaf, sign language, museum, children, access, collections