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April 14, 2006

Deaf Talkabout: Spreading the word on screen

From: Belfast Telegraph - United Kingdom - Apr 14, 2006

By Bob McCullogh

14 April 2006

Christchurch, Belfast, which meets at the Octagon beside the King's Hall, is commemorating Good Friday tonight at 6.30pm. It will show a 40-minute extract from a film on the life of Jesus followed by Holy Communion, and the pastor has texted me to say hearing impaired visitors are welcome as the film will be subtitled.

Deaf people award subtitles very high billing on the list of things that enhance our quality of life, and on both BBC and ITV the coverage is now around 90% and climbing.

In no other area of life are our communication needs so well catered for, and for those with modern digital sets we have the mouth watering prospect of watching this summer's World Cup football on high definition TV with subtitles to match.

I write this just after an email arrived from friends in London inviting us to stay with them next time one of Shakespeare's plays is interpreted at the Globe or some other theatre.

For many years specialised interpreters have done a wonderful job translating the dramas into sign, but Stage Text, which gives a read-out of the language in much the same way as TV subtitles, reaches out to a wider audience and is growing in popularity.

Stage text gives the full English translation of the play on large illuminated letters along the front of the stage and seating needs to be reserved for a good view.

Will hard of hearing and deaf people be willing to pay the additional expense of such seats or will the theatre management come to an understanding?

Organisers sometimes write to me asking why so few deaf patrons attend plays or shows after they have gone to the expense of engaging an interpreter (and paying for transport and hotels as the majority of such specialised interpreters come from London).

Understandably, too, theatres like the Grand Opera House and Lyric inBelfast are hesitant about spending a great deal of money on the equipment for Stage Text until they receive certain intimation of the numbers likely to attend.

Meanwhile, Sarah Hughes, communication officer at Queen's Film Theatre, Belfast, writes with details of a full range of subtitled screenings to be shown between April 14 and May 25.

The theatre offers a range of services to hearing impaired patrons including an infrared enhancement service and a loop system as well as captioned and subtitled films. I can vouch for the comfort of the seats and ease of viewing.

Tsotsi, which won the Oscar for best foreign language film this year, will be screened at QFT from April 14-20 and, set in a shantytown outside Johannesburg, tells the story of a young hoodlum who shoots a woman, hijacks her car and flees, only to discover a baby boy in the car with him. So begins his redemption.

÷Last Christmas I was given a present of a Sharp electronic dictionary, only five inches by three inches and half an inch thick, containing all the words of the Concise Oxford dictionary along with the Oxford thesaurus and the Oxford book of quotations. The quotations can be brought up at random by pressing the ? key so you can scroll through them and read them on the large screen, which lights up in the dark.

It would be wonderful to have an instrument this size and weight with the same ease of use, adapted to give a read-out of the spoken word everywhere we go. Scientists have told me voice recognition is feasible but development is delayed because of the many variations in human speech. Surely it won't be long now?

© 2006 Independent News and Media (NI)
a division of Independent News & media (UK) Ltd