PBS Kids Enhances Programming with ASL Interpreters for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Viewers

PBS Kids has improved the accessibility of its programming by featuring American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters in sixty episodes of six popular children’s series: Arthur, Alma’s path, Daniel Tigre’s neighborhood, Donkey Hoodie, Work it, Wombats!and Pinkalicious and peterific. This initiative, launched on April 18, aims to specifically cater to deaf and hard of hearing viewers, ensuring that they too can enjoy and interact with the programmes. The implementation follows a collaborative effort with entities such as GBH Kids and Fred Rogers Productions, enhancing existing features such as closed captioning and game settings adjusted for neurodiverse children.

The integration of ASL interpreters was carefully planned through partnerships with organizations like Bridge Multimedia and the Described and Captioned Media Program, which helped PBS Kids connect directly with the deaf community. Extensive research guided user interface decisions, such as the placement and visibility of ASL interpreters within the video player. This research included feedback from diverse groups within the deaf and hard of hearing community, ensuring solutions met a wide range of needs.

The image is a web page from the PBS Kids digital platform that features a section titled "AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE".  There is a notice that Bridge Multimedia and The Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) provide ASL with funding from the US Department of Education. Below this are thumbnails of the children's show episodes. "Alma's path" and "Arthur", each marked with an ASL icon to indicate the availability of sign language interpretation.  The thumbnails are labeled with episode titles like "No-Go Mofongo/Alma vs. Eddie" for "Alma's path" and have time stamps indicating their duration, which is approximately 23 to 27 minutes.  The design is bright and colorful, aimed at a young audience, with clear indicators of new content and accessibility features.
The image is a screenshot of the PBS Kids website that features the show. "Daniel Tigre's neighborhood".  It shows an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter in the foreground on the right, wearing a coral-colored blouse and smiling while signing.  The background shows an animated scene from the show with the characters on a stage, framed by a colorful storybook-like design with the caption "And then we'll learn a dance related to our song!" The PBS Kids, Games, and Videos icons are visible at the top and the WTTW logo is in the top right corner.  The design is vibrant and kid-friendly, and aims to combine visual storytelling with ASL to make the content accessible to deaf and hard of hearing children.

Going forward, PBS Kids intends to continue to refine this offering based on viewer feedback and additional research. The initial batch of sixty episodes is just the beginning, with plans to expand and adapt based on audience engagement levels and preferences. This initiative is part of a broader commitment by PBS Kids to make its educational content accessible to all children, thereby fostering an inclusive environment where every child has the opportunity to learn and grow.

If you or the organization you work for create video content for your audience, this initiative (and others like it) may encourage you to think about how you might incorporate ASL into your media. Among many factors, perhaps the first to consider is understanding the needs of the deaf audience, which requires a combination of specialized research, community engagement, and careful planning. conducting research Understanding this audience typically involves qualitative methods such as focus groups and interviews, as well as user experience studies to test different ASL presentation styles and technologies. It is critical that content creators work closely with members of the deaf and hard of hearing communities to gather insights and feedback on the effectiveness of ASL integration.

For independent content creators or smaller organizations, adding ASL interpreters to videos presents challenges and opportunities. Major challenges include the financial cost of hiring qualified ASL interpreters and the potential increase in production time. Hiring professional interpreters can be expensive, and rates vary depending on the experience of the interpreter and the length of the production. Additionally, technical requirements, such as ensuring that the performer is clearly visible and effectively integrated into the video, can increase production complexity and costs.

However, there are ways to manage these challenges. Creators can seek funding through grants specifically aimed at improving accessibility, or could consider partnerships with organizations dedicated to serving the deaf community, which could offer resources or cost-sharing opportunities. To hire ASL interpreters, creators can contact associations or professional services that offer interpretation services. Networking within the deaf community and at events can also be valuable in finding interpreters interested in media projects. By investing in these efforts, creators are not only making their content more inclusive but also expanding their audience reach.

Here’s an insightful interview with Melissa Malzkuhn, third-generation deaf and founder and director of motion light lab At Gallaudet University in Washington, their DC Lab is creating ASL-focused children’s media created by and for the deaf community.

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