5. Your content


Deaf people live in two worlds: they are members of the Deaf community, and of the larger hearing community. 

The majority of deaf children are born in hearing families that will have had little or no experience with Deaf people, or sign language. Video can give deaf children and their relatives access to both. In Bilingual Deaf Education, sign language is used as the language of instruction for school subjects. The national language is taught as a second language, usually on the basis of its printed form. Signing books can help deaf children learn both languages, as well all school subjects – which may include foreign (sign) languages. 

Deaf adults need video for information on Deaf issues and Deaf culture, but also for easy access to information, education, politics, culture, etc. of the larger, hearing community.


The contents of a production is the specific story that you want to film, the specific topic you want to address, the events that will be the subject of your documentary. For many productions, especially commissioned ones - you will first decide on your content, then on your format (see chapter 4). On the other hand, if you are producing a monthly video-magazine in sign language or a series of storybooks for children, you may first decide on a format, then select the topics you will address in each part of the magazine, or the stories that will be filmed.

Deaf vs. hearing content 

Most deaf children grow up in hearing families: they - and their relatives - need videos that show them Deaf role models, good sign language, and examples of what it means to be a Deaf person. At the same time, they need videos that give them access to the ‘hearing’ world: the spoken language and the ‘hidden curriculum’ that all hearing children participate in, but that – in real life – is mostly inaccessible for deaf children. 


Deaf children learn to read by reading a second language. Many productions for children are stories in sign language - almost always in combination with a printed book - to help Deaf children meet this double challenge. 
Productions for children and young people are often based on mainstream (picture) books. Only a small number of videos have original sign language stories.
Selection criteria for mainstream storybooks that are used as source material: 
  • The quality of the story in general, and relevance to the target group in particular; 
  • The language – both the language level, as well as how well it can be translated into sign language (see Chapter 8); 
  • The background knowledge that is required for the target group to understand the story; 
  • The length of the story – translations into sign language can be quite lengthy. Although books are usually read chapter by chapter over a number of days or weeks, a video is usually viewed from beginning to end in one sitting. For younger children, a video should probably be no longer than 15 minutes in duration, for teenagers a maximum length of 2 hours is sometimes used;
  • The illustrations: how many illustrations are there, what is their artistic quality, do they support the message and/or the mood of the story sufficiently, how well can they be filmed (also see Chapter 9); 
  • The suitability of the story with respect to the target group and your objective: if your objective is to stimulate the emotional development, awareness, and self image of Deaf children, stories with Deaf characters and stories from Deaf culture may be most appropriate. 

School subjects

Many Deaf youngsters do not read well enough to be able to use and study textbooks independently. In several countries, educational videos have been made accessible for Deaf youngsters by superimposing a sign language translation.
A small number of mainstream textbooks have been translated into sign language for Deaf students. 


Because so much information in hearing society is inaccessible for Deaf people, many productions are made to describe and explain the 'hearing' world to them. 
Recently, there have also been a number of productions to inform Deaf people about sign language, about Deaf issues, Deaf history, and about other topics directly related to Deafness. Usually all this information is available in printed form only, and therefore inaccessible for the majority of Deaf people. In many countries, hearing professionals are much better informed even about Deaf issues, than the Deaf people themselves.

Culture, sports, recreation 

Most videos for Deaf adults seem to be informational and educational videos. A relatively small number show Deaf poetry or Deaf drama. There are some documentaries on Deaf sports, and some productions with Deaf jokes. There are some productions that show signed theatre productions; some of these productions are translations of mainstream drama (e.g. Shakespeare), others are original sign language productions. 

Sign language literature 

The story-telling tradition of the Deaf Community seems to be better suited to ‘live’ story-telling than to the video format. We haven’t yet come across any Deaf authors who wrote their books in sign language and had them published on video. In the past few years, the scientific community has shown a growing interest in “Sign Language Literature”; hopefully, with official recognition, the number of publications in this genre will increase rapidly.      


Mainstream film

In the Netherlands, five mainstream video and film-productions for children have been made accessible for Deaf viewers, by adding a sign language translation. In one instance (Abeltje), the Sign Language version of the video was launched on the same day as the mainstream video. Deaf children were finally able to enjoy a video (and the accompanying mainstream marketing avalanche) at the same time as their hearing peers.

Reading schemes

To help Deaf children learn to read, all stories in the mainstream reading curriculum have been translated into sign language in GB (Oxford Reading Scheme) and in Norway. The Deaf children use the mainstream printed material in combination with the videotaped stories.

Deaf issues

The first official signing book published in Flemish-Belgian Sign Language is an introduction to the grammar of Flemish-Belgian Sign Language: “Grammaticale Aspecten van de Vlaams-Belgische Gebarentaal”. Before this production became available, many Deaf instructors teaching sign language courses had been unable to understand, let alone teach the structure of Flemish-Belgian Sign Language, because they couldn’t read the printed book.

As a consequence, many hearing people were better informed about sign language then the users and ‘owners’ of this language – as is probably the case in many countries.

For the videobook, the printed text was translated into sign language, divided into 20 chapters, and illustrated with many examples from Flemish-Belgian Sign Language. Deaf instructors can use the video for self-instruction, but can also use the video to support their lessons. Similar productions have been made on CD-ROM by SDR (SE) and SIH (SE).