The Signing Books Project

  The "Signing Books" project  
Signing Books for the Deaf was a European project funded under the TAP-DE programme (TAP DE 4209). The project started on January 1, 1998 and lasted until December 1999. Partners in the project were: 
The objective of the project was the development of guidelines for the production, publication and distribution of ‘signing books’ for the Deaf: books in sign language. Sign language is the preferred language of the early deaf (persons who were born deaf or became deaf early in life) and the only fully accessible language for most of them.
As of yet, there is no generally accepted writing system for sign languages. Therefore, the term ‘signing books’ is used in this project to indicate books in sign language, on videotape or CD-ROM, comparable to talking books for the blind. Sign language dictionaries, videos that teach sign language, and videos made for research purposes were outside the scope of this project.
Since the 1950’s large numbers of talking books have been available for the blind. Research aiming to improve the quality of talking books as well as their distribution process has been ongoing ever since, both nationally and internationally.
In contrast, signing books for the Deaf are a new development. In some countries, only a few signing books are available, often ad-hoc productions; in others, the number of signing books available may be as many as 200-300. Numbers that may seem impressive, but that are in the most favourable situation, at most only 0.5 % of the number of talking books available for blind people. Research to improve the quality of signing books and their distribution process is – as far as we know – non-existent.


The guidelines that can be found in this document are the result of activities undertaken by the Signing Books Consortium, between January 1998 and December 2000. These activities were:
  • A description of the state of the art of signing books in the European Union: the videos and CD-ROMs, the production process, and the people and organisations involved in their production (Del. 3.1).
  • A description of the delivery methods of Libraries for the Blind, of currently available Library Services for the Deaf and of other distribution systems of videos to Deaf users, and a state of the art report on the possibilities of using the internet and/or television for the distribution of signing books (Del. 4.1).
  • Hands-on development of signing books test-material by the partners of the Consortium (Del. 5.1);
  • User tests in three countries: DE, GB and NL, and with five user groups: deaf children, parents of deaf children, teachers of deaf children, deaf students, and deaf adults. In total, more than 300 persons participated in these tests (Del. 6.1).
  • A symposium where producers from all countries of the EU presented their recent productions and productions methods and gave feedback on the preliminary guidelines presented there by the Signing Books Consortium.
These guidelines were written for an extremely varied target group: for experienced producers and novices, for experts in sign language and for readers for whom this is the first encounter with Deaf people, their culture and their language, for Deaf readers and hearing readers, for producers that have access to state-of-the-art broadcasting studios and for ‘home-video’ makers, for signers, for translators, for directors, for camera-persons, editors, etc., in all countries of the European Union, and beyond.
These guidelines are not prescriptions: we cannot and do not want to prescribe how signing books should be made, or what they must look like. The guidelines describe the practices of experienced producers, and the responses of viewers. Many examples and screen-prints have been added, to illustrate and support the text. We want to thank the producers and publishers for letting us use these examples of their work.
These guidelines present a snapshot of the production of signing books for deaf children, students and adults, at the end of the 20th century, in the countries of the European Union. Even during the two years of the project, we witnessed rapid developments: in technology, but also in awareness of, and in consensus on the right Deaf people have to information in sign language. We hope that the guidelines will need to be revised soon, to include new developments, new insights, new practices.