Malayalam channel features sign language translations of news for a week

To mark International Day of Sign Languages, the channel will feature anchors providing sign language translations of the day’s top news till September 27.
Malayalam channel features sign language translations of news for a week
Malayalam channel features sign language translations of news for a week

Regular viewers of Asianet News channel noticed something different about the channel’s regular news bulletins on Sunday: an additional box on the side of the screen featuring news anchors simultaneously providing sign language translations of the day’s top news.

This new initiative was carried out in observance of International Day of Sign Languages (23 September). S Biju, the assistant executive editor at Asianet, tells TNM that this initiative will continue to be carried out until Thursday, 27 September.

Biju said, “It is estimated that roughly 1 per cent of people has varying degrees of speech or hearing disabilities. The National Institute of Speech and Hearing (NISH) in Thiruvananthapuram is one of the fundamental institutes working in this area. They requested us to support them in their initiative to make the media more hearing impaired-friendly and we obliged.”

The anchors providing the sign language news on Asianet are from NISH. “We trained them over the last few days, we gave them instructions and familiarised them with our system. The sign language anchors will be joining us for three of our regular news bulletins: the 8 AM, 2 PM and 4 PM bulletins. They come into our studios and present along with our anchors.”

He said that it was a mild challenge for the team, in terms of television and production nuances and readjusting graphics. “Outwardly it looks simple, but there was some inner challenges. However, we thought we will support them,” Biju added.

When asked if there were any additional costs required to carry out this initiative, Biju says, “Just capital costs, in terms of time and energy. A few people may have to come in earlier to train them, but in an organisation, it can be managed without any additional operational cost. There’s not really an issue of cost.”

But he did mention that the space where Asianet is broadcasting these special anchors onscreen is actually the space normally given to branding and advertising. “Our commercial team has decided to pull out the advertisements in those spaces in favour of this initiative.”

Biju went on to elucidate just why this is such an important initiative. “If more people understand sign language, we can break barriers between communities. If we all knew sign language, we could communicate easily with the deaf community, and with each other if we meet non-hearing impaired individuals who speak unfamiliar languages. Learning sign language creates a lot of understanding and sympathy for the hearing impaired community.”

He mentions that while there may be some challenges to continuing the program after this initiative which will end on Thursday - like the fact that the full television screen space is often necessary when there’s critical, developing or important breaking news - there are ways to carry such initiatives forward.

“If there is a strong organisation or some universities working in this space as there in other countries like the US, it’s possible to create a resource where regular news bulletins are converted to sign language bulletins. They can be shown in a second screen, on web platforms and mobile platforms, or separate bulletins can be created by such groups working in the field. They can perhaps take up major bulletins of different news organisations. If the organisation gives the consent, it can easily be done in a second screen, or as a separate resource,” Biju explains.

While Asianet is not the only channel to start such an initiative — Doordarshan’s prime-time news has been hearing impaired-friendly since 2009 — it’s heartening to see a leading private news channel attempt an inclusive and really rather jolly initiative like this and hope it will inspire other news channels to do the same and inspire organisations to try to find ways in which news can be made accessible to different marginalised communities through innovative new projects.

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