Improving access for Deaf / deaf people

Sign language is the first language of some Deaf* people on the island and many Deaf people regard themselves as a language minority, rather than as disabled people. Two types of sign language are used: Irish Sign Language (ISL)  and British Sign Language (BSL). Many arts organisations now recognise this culture by offering signed performances or signed exhibition tours. See the Directory to find Sign Language Interpreters.


There is a shortage of qualified sign interpreters, especially in rural areas, so it is important to book interpreters well in advance.

Sign language interpreters usually work for twenty to thirty minutes before taking a break, so you should book at least two interpreters for events such as seminars and conferences. One interpreter is sufficient for events such as exhibition openings that involve only short verbal inputs.


Not every deaf person chooses or is able to use sign language. It is important not to make assumptions about access requirements but to establish individual preferences.


*’Deaf’ with an upper case ‘D’ is commonly used to mean people who use sign language as their first language and who identify as members of the Deaf community. When ‘deaf’ with a lower case ‘d’ is used, this generally means those people who have a hearing loss but whose first language is spoken English.


*Electronic Note-Takers
This is the term used to describe speed-typists providing communication support using two laptop computers linked together, or the text from one laptop projected onto a screen. This service enables a deaf or hard-of-hearing person to participate in meetings, workshops and other events.

Theatre Captioning

Captioning is similar to TV subtitling. The actors' words appear on a display unit (s) on or near the stage. Speaker names, sound effects and offstage noises are shown.  Captioning services for theatre are being developed in Northern Ireland by the Northern Ireland Theatre Association and in the Republic by Arts and Disability Ireland.

A textphone or Minicom enables people with significant hearing impairments to communicate using the telephone system. Typed text, viewed on a small screen, replaces the spoken word. Textphone users can contact each other directly and or can communication between users of standard telephones and textphone users by using British Telecom’s Typetalk service in Northern Ireland and Telecom Eireann’s national relay service in the Republic of Ireland.


A loop system amplifies the source of sound transmitted via a microphone (for example, during a performance, lecture or film) directly to hearing aid users who tune their aids to the “T” position. It amplifies only the desired sounds and cuts out background noise. While auditoria should have permanent loop systems, they can also be hired for temporary use at meetings, seminars etc.

An infra-red system works in a similar way to a loop system, and is often used with headphones for audio description and simultaneous translation. This system is particularly suitable for music venues.


View the list of relevant organisations in the Directory