Deaf Culture Experts Help Times Explain Name Signing

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How does a person get a name sign – the series of unique gestures used to identify someone in American Sign Language? For a team of Times reporters, the process of answering this question underscored the importance of two bases of storytelling – relying on experts and thinking about the audience – and culminated in an interactive article in July that enabled to better understand deaf culture.

“One of our priorities was to show our readers the diversity of experiences and backgrounds that exist in the deaf world,” said Ilaria Parogni, editor who wrote the article. “Exploring name signs allowed us to exploit that. “

The challenge began when The Times set out to find out how Vice President Kamala Harris received her name sign (also known as the sign).

Name signs are an important component of ‘Capital D Deaf’ culture, a term used by some deaf people to indicate that they embrace deafness as a cultural identity. Signs consist of gestures that may reflect facets of an individual’s personality, physical characteristics or background.

A group of five women had collaborated on a name board for Vice President Harris after agreeing that her black and Indian heritage should inform her name.

Scott Reinhard, a graphic editor, initially pitched the idea to the culture office and suggested talking to the women about how they came up with the name sign. Ms Parogni and Alicia DeSantis, associate editor for visuals and multimedia, held a two-hour video call with the five women in February. Ms Parogni has family members who have suffered hearing loss and who had previously written stories about the on-screen portrayal of deaf and hard of hearing characters on television.

But, she said, “I am always aware that I am not a member of the Deaf community. So she consulted ASL teachers throughout the project, asking them for advice on sensitive topics like how best to indicate that someone is talking about ASL in an article. She also shared insights with the team that she gained through her experiences reporting and researching the topic.

The Times worked with several interpreters throughout the project, consulting an interpretation agency that helped select translators who would meet the needs of people from different backgrounds. “Diversity was important to us,” said Ms. Parogni. “Behind the scenes too. “

Ms Parogni said it quickly became clear to everyone that there was a much bigger story to be told beyond Ms. Harris – about the history of name signs and what they mean to deaf people.

It was also clear that video, graphics and design needed to be integrated in order to tell the story in a fully accessible way. In total, more than a dozen journalists worked on the project, including Deborah Leiderman, an editor who was involved from the start. She helped produce the project and edited the written component. Ms Leiderman had also worked with Ms Parogni on previous articles on deaf people.

Meg Felling, a video editing assistant, edited the videos and created captions based on the performers’ translations. She was unfamiliar with ASL, so she looked for signs to avoid cutting someone off in the middle of a sentence while making edits. Still, there were issues the team needed to work on.

“Interpretation is not an exact science,” Ms. Parogni said. “So for a certain word, we often had to go back to the source to be 100% sure. “

Amanda Morris, a hard of hearing woman raised by two deaf parents who is fluent in ASL, offered additional support when she joined The Times in June as a disability reporting researcher.

“It made a huge difference,” Ms. Parogni said. “Not just to have someone who could watch the subtitles and make sure the ASL was right, but also to confirm that we were approaching the project the right way.”

Ms. Morris helped make some of the captions more precise. “The signs can be very similar,” she said. “It’s important to use several contextual cues such as facial expressions and body language to understand what a person is saying. “

The team also followed their recommendation to highlight a key story detail: name signs cannot be assigned by a hearing person. And Ms Morris reinforced a direction that team members decided earlier to make the article accessible to visually impaired readers by including video transcripts – invisible descriptions of videos on a page that are read aloud to blind users. or visually impaired on a screen reader.

Ms Morris said she hopes all of these efforts will help educate readers about deaf people and show “sign language has deep cultural significance.”

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