Information Now

British Sign Language and subtitles

Sign language is a visual means of communicating using gestures, facial expressions and body language. Sign language is used mainly by deaf people and people with hearing difficulties.

Within Britain the most common form of sign language is British Sign Language (BSL). BSL has its own grammatical structure and syntax. It is currently the preferred language of approximately 50,000 to 70,000 people within the UK.

The following information and organisations may help you to find a local BSL interpreter, or a course where you can learn BSL.

  • Communication Support Service – Newcastle City Council for deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind people.
  • North East BSL English Interpreters is a regional website  which gives contact details for freelance interpreters in the north east who are trained bilinguals and can interpret quickly and effectively between spoken English and BSL. They work in a variety of situations (for example medical, legal, workplace and conferences). They may also have trained in a specialist area.
  • Signature is a registered charity that is raising standards of communication between deaf and hearing people. It is the UK recognised awarding body for qualifications in British Sign Language (BSL) and other methods of communication used by deaf people. To find a registered BSL interpreter or a BSL course near you, contact Signature.
  • Becoming Visible – in the heart of the Deaf Community offers a deaf-led interpreter booking service and training agency. As an agency it can book BSL/English interpreters, lip speakers and note-takers. It runs courses in deaf awareness and BSL including: Introduction to BSL, Foundation Level BSL, Intermediate Level BSL and Advanced Level BSL. If you are interested in any of these courses, contact Becoming Visible.
  • The NHS 111 service now has a British Sign Language interpreter, provided by InterpreterNow, available via computer webcam from 8am to midnight. Using your computer and webcam, you make a video call to a BSL interpreter. The interpreter telephones an NHS 111 adviser and relays your conversation with them. The NHS 111 adviser will ask you questions to assess your symptoms, then give you the healthcare advice you need or direct you straightaway to the local service that can help you best.

Subtitles and live captioning

Some television programmes have subtitles or text on screen which describes the spoken word and sounds taking place during a programme. This helps to convey the meaning of the programme. Most televisions have a subtitle facility. You can activate subtitles on a number of programmes by pressing the ‘text’ button on your television remote. Please refer to your television manual for more information and to check if your television can display subtitles.

The BBC have a helpful online guide which explains how to switch on subtitles on BBC programmes and when using the iPlayer or YouTube.

STAGETEXT is a charity which provides captioning and live speech-to-text services in theatres and other arts and cultural venues, such as museums. Captioning is a way of converting the spoken word into visible text to give deaf, deafened and hard of hearing theatre or museum goers access to live performance. They provide information on captioned performances or exhibitions close to you.

See the Information NOW film in British Sign Language and with subtitles developed with Deaflink.



Last updated: July 8, 2022

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