Sign Languages

in Making Audio and Video Media Accessible


Sign languages use hand and arm movements, facial expressions, and body positions to convey meaning.

Sign language is the native language of many people who are Deaf. Some do not read or understand written language well — especially at the speed of most captions.

Some people will want to have sign language and captions at the same time.

Not everyone who is Deaf knows sign language, especially if they became Deaf or hard-of-hearing later in life. Some people use “lip reading” to help understand speech, though that cannot be replied upon for accessibility.

Sign languages are different across regions and countries. For example, American Sign Language (ASL), Black American Sign Language (BASL), British Sign Language (BSL), and Auslan (Australian Sign Language) are different.

There are some efforts to provide automatic sign language from text; however, avatars that simulate sign language interpretation are not robust enough to be adequate.

Standards Requirements

Sign language is not required in most web accessibility policies.

Sign language is in the WCAG standard at Level AAA: Understanding 1.2.6 Sign Language. (The Planning page of this resource introduces the WCAG Standard.)

Skills and Tools

To include sign language alternatives, you will need people, skills, and tools to:


Example sign language in video: NHS 111 British Sign Language (BSL) Advert (YouTube)

Creating Sign Language Alternatives

Use colors that are easy to distinguish - planning, recording
Usually it is best if the background and the signer’s clothing are solid colors that contrast with their skin tone. That way their hands and face are easier to see.
Use good lighting - planning, recording
Ensure good lighting to help make the signer clearly visible.
Capture the full signing space - recording
For most sign languages the signing space extends from well below the waist to above the head and at least an elbow width to each side.
Ensure the signer is large enough - post-production
Viewers need to be able to clearly see all movements and facial expressions.
Avoid obscuring important content - post-production
Position the signer to avoid obscuring important information in the video. The signer is usually at the bottom right. If your video has information such as a news ticker at the bottom, position the signer above that.
Ideally when the video was made, the position of the signer was planned for, as noted in another page of this resource: Plan for sign language – storyboarding, recording.
Make sign language video(s) easy to discover and use
Make it easy to get to the video with sign language and to the video without sign language.
For example, directly underneath the media player, include a large visible toggle button and/or labelled image for the sign language videos(s).
Auslan (Australian Sign Language)

There are resources on the web that provide additional guidance on creating sign language alternatives. For example:

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