Access to Concerts with British Sign Language

Music is considered a universal language, but how do you access performances if you can’t hear? 

British Sign Language (BSL) is a language typically used by the Deaf community. BSL-interpreted performances help to provide a more inclusive experience for a wider range of people by including the use of a more visual language, ensuring that sign language users can enjoy the performance as well. We’re seeing positive changes to the accessibility into the world of orchestral music, from the provision of BSL-interpreted concerts, to relaxed performances that make use of Makaton which is not a complete language like BSL but rather a supplementary communication system.

What is a BSL-interpreted performance?

This is a performance that utilises the expertise of a BSL interpreter to translate the performance into the handshapes, facial expressions, and body movements that make up British Sign Language. Typically, the interpreter will stand to one side of the stage, so there will be allocated areas for better viewing of the interpreter; the stage management will always ensure the interpreter is clearly lit to make them easy to see. It’s always best to check with the venue to find the best position before purchasing your tickets. 

I had prepped myself to bag some tickets to the Aurora Orchestra’s performance at the BBC Proms this summer, but the incredible orchestra managed to sell out the performance in the first weekend of tickets being available; I’ll have to settle for watching the televised performance on BBC4 instead! The Aurora Orchestra’s performances are extremely accessible for all, and the theme of this year’s BBC Prom performance is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (by heart no less!). I can’t wait to see how they include Beethoven’s hearing loss into the storytelling of this composition, and of course, there’s the wonderful Actor/BSL Interpreter Thomas Simper providing the BSL translations throughout. 

Vasily Petrenko conductor, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia Chorus and Paul Whittaker, BSL Interpreter, RAH, 26 May 22 credit Mark Allan 2

What is a relaxed performance?

Relaxed performances are uniquely design for those who may find traditional concerts challenging to attend, such as those who with disabilities, learning disabilities, or are neurodiverse. They can include more interactive elements, BSL interpretation, Makaton singing (a communication tool with speech, signs, and symbols), and a generally gentler approach to the performance to suit those with sensory impairments. 

While it’s great to see the progress made by the increased opportunities to access music in alternative senses other than hearing, there’s still a long way to go. In 2021, Wembley Stadium announced that it would become the UK’s biggest venue to offer BSL as a guaranteed service at every live concert provided by Performance Interpreting Ltd. We hope that more venues can follow their lead and provide more consistent BSL interpretation. 

As an audiologist that supports many musicians, I want to know that the industry is ensuring it is accessible to all. We hope, as a clinic, to see an increase in the provision of BSL-interpreted and relaxed performances. 

The best way to stay updated on the available BSL-interpreted performances is to join the access schemes available for the organisation or venues that you like to attend. Additionally, theatresign provides information on BSL-interpreted performances for theatre productions. 

If you’ve found this article please see some of our others:

Harley Street Hearing’s London Theatre Hearing Guide

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