DISCOVER: Sign Language Interpretation Video Requirements

Four individuals using sign language

NOTE FROM MARY: This is the fourth post of a four-part series related to the WCAG 2.1 Guideline Success Criterion 1.2.6 Sign Language (Prerecorded) (Level AAA). Though not currently required, adopting Level AAA guidelines now and going forward can provide a better user experience for persons with disabilities.

by Emma Mankin
Guest Blogger

Thanks to today’s technologically savvy world, many of us have seen videos of ASL interpretation. But what happens behind the video cameras to make these presentations look professional?

Interpreters can sign simultaneously (live, or in real time) or on a pre-recorded video. Besides being ready to interpret what speakers are saying, they, along with their videographers, need to consider more filming logistics as they prepare for any type of video interpretations.

Visual Recommendations

  • Lighting: Lighting conditions should not interfere with interpreters’ visibility. When they are filmed on a set location, lighting conditions should give them good visibility. However, if the lights are too strong, they can blind the interpreters and provide a less attractive image for Deaf and hard of hearing videos.
  • Location and Background: Interpreters can be filmed in a live setting or in a studio against a backdrop. If a neutral background is needed, light colors work better than dark colors (i.e., light blue and gray over other colors). Also, reflections from shadows, glare, scenery, glasses, and jewelry should try to be avoided because they could cause a major distraction to the interpreters’ visibility and/or signing.
  • Clothing: No matter the background, there should be a good contrast of colors between interpreters’ hands and face, their clothing, and the background – ideally, neutral, solid colors without distracting designs or patterns.

Filming Interpreters

  • Signing Space: ASL interpreters’ body locations and movements provide a syntactic function in sign language. While filming, videographers need to make sure that their shots, angles, and visibility are captured well in interpreters’ signing space against their background. Every interpreter’s signing space will be different; but typically, their chest or waistline up are visible as they stand in front of the camera.
  • Distance Between the Camera and the Interpreter(s): Facial expressions, as well as arm and hand movements, are important when signing. Closeups are rarely used to prevent risking interpreters’ hands from leaving the signing space. Similarly, long distance shots are rarely used because their faces and signing would not have the best visibility. Overall, interpreters address the camera. They should stand or sit (depending on the setting) as close to the camera as they can, without risking cut-offs, to ensure real interaction and eye contact with their Deaf and/or hard of hearing viewers.
  • Camera Movements: Most times, camera movements are typically avoided when filming interpreters. However, sometimes, they may be intentional. For example, interpreters may tell stories with extensive subject-, movement-, and detail-oriented signing. When these situations arise, videographers must carefully and functionally film interpreters’ signing so they do not interfere with the visibility quality.
  • Closed Captions: Closed captioning acts as a second language feature that can help Deaf and hard of hearing individuals watch filmed interpreters’ signing if they miss certain details and/or are not physically seated near them. Because sign language interpretation provides various intonation, emotional, and audio abilities, it provides richer and more equivalent access to synchronized media. If captions plan to be included along with the interpretation, there should be some extra room on camera (particularly below the interpreters’ signing space) reserved for them.


BIO: Emma Mankin is a freelance blog and technical writer located in St. Augustine, Florida who specializes in explaining technical topics so that they are easy to understand. She holds a B.A. in English with a minor in American Sign Language from George Mason University. Email Emma.

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