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Q. We are creating a television show/episode, motion picture, or theatrical production utilizing American Sign Language and/or Deaf talent – now what?

A.  Congratulations!!  You are in for a transformative experience.


Immediately contract a Director of Artistic Sign Language (DASL). The DASL should always be an integral part of the initial creative process, alongside the director (and Choreographer and Music Director, if applicable). Please understand that the integration of ASL and Deaf culture will not work as simply an add-on down the line. The full fulfillment of character(s), culture, and story can only be realized through collaboration with a DASL from the onset.


Bring in an ASL consultant to educate your production staff with best practices on working in an environment with both ASL and spoken English.


Last, but not least, hire ASL interpreters, with guidance from the DASL.

Q.  What is a Director of Artistic Sign Language (DASL)?  Why should this person be Deaf?

A.  The Director of Artistic Sign Language is a person with extensive knowledge of Deaf history and culture, with years of experience working with the differences between everyday conversation and artistic storytelling, as well as the differences of signing for the stage and signing on camera.


The DASL works collaboratively with the director and other creatives to honor the project’s artistic vision. Character sign choices, and authentic character interaction, are pivotal to truthful, impactful storytelling. The DASL also works with the director and the actors to artistically imbue those truths within the characters.  For stage plays and musicals, the DASL also provides useful tips on how to maintain physical health while signing entire shows eight times a week, without exacerbatingpre-existing issues, or causing new injuries in the wrists, arms, and/or shoulders.


Hiring a Deaf person as your DASL provides unparalleled, lifelong authenticity to any production, via a wellspring of history and knowledge which someone who has not lived life as a Deaf person could not possibly have. As well, it provides a fellow artist who just happens to be Deaf a job opportunity within a field in which they are exceedingly underrepresented, and in a role no one who is not Deaf could hope to fulfill as successfully.

Q.  We have hired Deaf talent – now what?

A.  Ask the agent, manager, or client directly if they have a preference as far as the interpreter(s) to be hired. Interpreters are NOT "one size fits all"! DO NOT wait until the last minute to hire an interpreter, unless this gig is literally tomorrow!  The best interpreters book weeks and months in advance.

Bring in an ASL consultant to educate your production staff with best practices on working in an environment with both ASL and spoken English.

Q.  The Deaf talent in the show can make their own sign choices, right?

A.  Is this an interview?  Then, yes. However:


Is this piece historical?


Are there regionalistic differences (parts of a city, a country, or the world in which the story is set) about which hearing people may be ignorant?  ASL has at LEAST as many accents, and as much specifically regionalistic language, as English!


Through which community is the story being told?


Is this the sole character in the story that communicates in ASL?

If there are other actors involved in the production who communicate in ASL, Deaf talent should NOT be tasked with teaching these actors their signs. That is simply not their job.


Sign language is not two-dimensional. It moves in space, and there are often many different ways to express the same idea, all with their own nuanced and specific meaning. Having a DASL is an indispensable asset – not only for the creative team,  but also for the talent, who will have someone from whom they can seek clarity, comprehension, authenticity, and translations.  They are free to just fulfill their primary function – to ACT.  If the primary language of the storytelling is English, there will ALWAYS be the need to translate such into ASL -  it is its own language, with its own specific syntax, non-manual signals, and grammatical structure.


Additionally, if this is an on-camera project, the DASL is available to provide new sign choices for changes in the writing and improvised ideas, and usually works with the script supervisor to provide on-the-spot feedback on which takes are usable as far as the sign language is concerned. Deaf talent and the DASL definitely collaborate on the sign choices.


Please note, BHO5 DECLINES ANY AND ALL work involving hearing actors portraying Deaf roles.

Q. We will need to hire an interpreter for rehearsals and on set - can’t I just ask my friend who took a college course in ASL to do it?

A.  Unless this person is an RID- (Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf) certified interpreter, AND has a great deal of knowledge working in theatre, TV, or film, this is not only a disservice to the Deaf talent, but to the entire artistic project. The best interpreters will be able to facilitate efficient communication between parties. Inform your friend that if they are interested in this type of work, they may be able to function as a production assistant, and shadow the interpreter hired for the job. This, however, is a separate conversation to have, as the priority here should be obtaining the optimal results for your team, your talent, and your project.


Please note, BHO5 does NOT supply interpreters - but we have many connections, and we would be more than happy to offer suggestions!

Q.  There is an actor in the production who already signs – can they double as an interpreter?

A.  No.


You hire a DASL to work with the actors on sign choices; you hire a professional ASL interpreter to facilitate communication... and NOT your mother’s best friend from grade school’s husband’s brother who happens to know some sign language!


Keep in mind, there are different interpreters for different lines of work. If someone is well-versed in legal system interpreting, they may not know theatre terminology, and vice-versa - they may not be able to facilitate conversations on Bertolt Brecht, musical theatre, or Shakespeare.


Do your research. Ask around.

Q. Wouldn’t hiring an interpreter who is CODA (a Child of Deaf Adults) be a wiser monetary investment? That way, one person could be both the interpreter and the DASL.

A.  No.


The interpreter’s main job is to focus on facilitating communication between ASL users and non-ASL users. During rehearsals or filming, the interpreter should not be teaching hearing actors sign language, nor should they be advising production on how a Deaf person would sign a specific idea. Character sign choices are creatively embedded in what is authentic to the storytelling.


The interpreter’s input is of tremendous value, but it should always be utilized for the empowerment of Deaf talent... not to mention that even attempting to do both jobs at once is simultaneously a conflict of interest and an issue of the actor’s personal safety.

Q.  Are there some other Best Practices of which I should be aware?

A.  Yes:


DO admit that you do not have all the answers, or knowledge of the Deaf experience.


DO empower yourself with knowledge and cultural etiquette.


DO ask the client their preferred means of communication. Many people don’t realize that most Deaf people deal with hearing people every day. We definitely have more experience in having interactions with non-ASL users than Hearing people do with ASL users. Trust that we know what we are doing, and let us guide you.


NO, not all of us are fluent lip readers. If we do lipread, that is up to us to decide if that is the best way to communicate.


DON’T give excuses, or guilt the Deaf talent, because you are unable (or unwilling) to provide them optimal access accommodation(s).


DON’T refer to a Deaf person in the third person when speaking to them through an interpreter.  Avoid language such as, “Tell him/her/them---” (“Tell them that wardrobe is on their way”).  Instead, talk to us DIRECTLY, and the interpreter will interpret.


DON’T watch the interpreter when they are voicing for the person.  Keep your focus on the person.

The interpreter is NOT a personal assistant, nor are they a babysitter. Do not ask them to go get and bring Deaf talent to them. If we are to report somewhere, bring the interpreter with you, and let us know yourself.


Trust yourselves. If you are at a loss for communications, think outside the box. Text. Paper and Pen. Etch-a-Sketch!


Okay, you get the idea. Think outside the box.

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