By Esther Hallberg
Esther Hallberg is the Access and Inclusion Manager at Hull Museums. Hull Museums is also part of the Humber Museums Partnership, an NPO which includes North Lincolnshire and East Riding Museums. Esther has studied British Sign Language (BSL) up to level 2.
I took over the project management of our Medieval gallery redisplay at Hull and East Riding Museum in 2020. At the time, it was hard to imagine what engaging with the public again would look like. We knew we wanted the Medieval gallery to be as accessible as possible though, and this was an opportunity to test out some new ideas and set an accessibility benchmark for future projects.
Pre-covid, we had made a start with Audio Description at Ferens Art Gallery, but we didn’t have BSL interpretation available at any of our sites yet. The silver lining of lockdown had been that it shed a new light on access and inclusion, and this was in our minds while we reconsidered all aspects of the visitor experience, in planning our reopening. When 3 of our sites reopened, they had a Visual Story for example, something that had been an ambition for some time. We had reopening films make in Makaton and BSL but we didn’t want to stop there. Once BSL users were at Hull and East Riding Museum, how could we improve their experience?
What did we do?
We got in touch with IPass (Integrated Physical and Sensory Service), who support children in local schools with additional physical and sensory needs, and they suggested David and Gemma Webb could help, who work in a local school, but are also BSL tutors. We were really pleased because we wanted Deaf BSL users involved, especially from the local area, to help ensure that news of the resource spread and it would be well used. As they work in school, we had to block out some of October Half Term with a filmmaker but this meant that filming on gallery would’ve been very difficult, so we filmed in the Education Room downstairs. David and Gemma brought a hearing interpreter with them and we were lucky that the filmmaker we hired (from Flygirl Films) had done BSL level 1. Although she wasn’t as confident signing, she had good Deaf awareness, which was really helpful during the process. They were 2 quite long days but we managed to complete all the text panels.
Editing the films was hit by a lot of delays, initially due to Covid and sickness, and working part time but also because during the filming we decided we would add in supporting images onto the background that Gemma and David could point to. Pairing up the image and signing, really tested my own BSL knowledge. Looking back, this could have been done better and quicker by someone more qualified than me, but by that point it would’ve been very difficult to handover the project to anyone else.
Also, once the images had all been added in, we realised that in some cases the image was to the left and others to the right, some images needed crediting and others didn’t. There were also images in the background in the exhibition which were referred to in the text of the information panels, and if anyone was watching the videos at home, they’d not be able to see those.
The films are nearly ready to be launched, but I thought it might help to share what we’ve learned so far with others, and what we plan to do next.
Pre-filming Read Through
A read-through with the curator beforehand would really have helped. There were words for tools for example that although I was familiar with what they looked like, I couldn’t tell you exactly how they worked, which was crucial to creating a sign where we weren’t able to find an existing one. We also had a bit of confusion over words with multiple meanings, like ‘noble’. It would be good to talk to a partner who is developing or could develop more historical and archaeological BSL signs, because I think that would be really beneficial to the Museums sector.
Establish style and layout before filming
It would have helped to establish at the start that a supporting image would appear to one specified side and which of the images on the text panel would be best for this.
Hire someone to organise filming and editing
In retrospect, I think my time could have been used more efficiently. I spent a lot of time working through this by trial and error. The filmmaking and signing was of really good quality, but I feel the arranging and editing could have been done by someone more experienced than me, and this would have ensured a much smoother running, quicker project.
Try and block out time
The filmmaker and I were both trying to fit it in around other projects, meaning that we were editing in batches. If I had blocked out a week for example, we probably would’ve been able to sort any issues out a lot sooner and more efficiently.
Our next step is to test the films out with a visiting group before they are finalised. This is crucial to make sure they are used and approved locally by people who will be able to spread the word.
Once they’ve been tested, we’ll make them available in the gallery through QR codes (on own devices and borrowed tablets) and from home through YouTube.
We’ve made contact with a company who specialises in creating BSL interpretation, so we’d like to continue our journey with their support to create more BSL content across our sites.
We’ve been in touch with the Scottish Sensory Centre about a history or archaeology glossary (Scottish Sensory Centre: British Sign Language Glossary of Curriculum Terms (ed.ac.uk) which they are keeping in mind for future projects but they’ve also suggested contacting the British Deaf History Society British Deaf History Society – The Deaf Museum and Art Gallery (bdhs.org.uk).
It will be a great day when we can launch this resource and share it with the public. Hopefully, we have worked through the major issues and we can work on future BSL content for all of our sites a lot more efficiently and effectively.