9. The visuals



Video and television are visual media. Viewers expect to see more than a 'talking head', or in the case of signing books, 'a signing body'. 

In signing books, visuals (still pictures or film) can be used: 
  • to support the message and content of a video, 
  • to add visual interest and variety and to support the mood and pace of a production, and 
  • for navigation purposes. 
The first function is very important for viewers who are not fluent signers, for viewers who are not very familiar with watching sign language on video, and for videos with difficult and/or unfamiliar content. The other functions are important also because they add a 'professional' touch to a production - but they should never be allowed to interfere with the signer, the sign language, or the content of a production.

Visuals to support the message  

In almost all signing books, the sign language is 'illustrated' with still pictures or film. This is especially important when viewers are not fluent in sign language, when viewers are not used to seeing sign language on video or television, or when the content is unfamiliar or difficult. 
Visuals can be pictures of persons, objects, settings, or actions.

The mood  

Visuals can support the 'mood' of a video - as a visual alternative to background music in mainstream videos. 

The pace

Visuals can also be used to 'pace' a video, e.g. to indicate the end of a paragraph or chapter. Fast changing visuals or a rapid alternation of signer and visuals can make a signing book less 'boring' for young people and more like mainstream video and television programmes. 

Still pictures  

Many signing books use 'book-like' illustrations as visuals. In many cases, these visuals were copied from a printed mainstream book or publication; in some cases, the visuals were made especially for the video. 
If still pictures are used, they should meet the following criteria:
  • pictures should be attractive and appropriate for the target group and the subject of the production; 
  • they should preferably be in colour, of good contrast and not too detailed. Visibility should be good on video, even for visually impaired viewers; 
  • very detailed or complex pictures can be filmed in parts or with the camera zooming in on specific details; 
  • pictures should support what is signed - they should not be in conflict with the story; 
  • the balance between pictures and signing - in number and in content - should be appropriate for the target group and for the objective of the production. Visuals are often used to cover edits between shots of a signer. If you want to use visuals for this end, you will need as many visuals as your text has paragraphs (See Chapter 8). 


Film can be either an existing mainstream television programme or video (fiction or non-fiction), or it can be role-play, drama, or a documentary specifically made for this production. The advantage of specially made materials is that one can use signing actors; the advantage of using pre-existing materials is that these have usually been made with much larger budgets. 

As background

Visuals can be used as 'background' to the sign language, without any interaction between the signer and the visuals. This doesn't necessarily mean that the visuals are actually shown behind the signer - there are many other alternatives (see Chapter 13).

As props 

A signer may on the other hand interact with the visuals: he may look at them, turn towards them, point to them, or even manipulate them. This can be done in real life, in front of the camera, or added during the editing phase, by superimposing images. 
If a signer is to interact with images that will be superimposed during the editing, the interaction should be described carefully in the script. 


If existing pictures or video material is to be used, make sure that you are not in violation of copyright laws when you use these. Unless pictures or videos are copyright free, you will need written permission by the publisher and/or the artist of the originals - even if the original production was never published in your country.

Low-vision viewers 

For low-vision viewers, it is important that:
  • the contrast between background and visuals is good; 
  • the contrast between visuals and signer is good; 
  • the contrast within the visuals is good; 
  • visuals are not too small or too detailed; 
  • visuals have a fixed (or predictable) location on the screen;
  • in interactive productions, that visuals can be sized and moved around by the user. 
Visuals to support the message. Little Red Hen, Chase Video, GB
Visuals to support the mood. Griezelen, OV-Amsterdam, NL
Interaction with the visuals. Pirate Adventure, Chase Video, GB