Teleprompting at Live Events for Deaf or Hard of Hearing Audiences

You may know I volunteer as a trip leader for kids with varying disabilities, including sight, hearing, and mobility issues. We go cross country skiing and learn that everyone falls on skis, everyone is bad at something for the first time, and that snow is FUN!

So while I am familiar with a few basic signs, including how to spell my name in ASL, a conversation is out of my skill range. And yet, I’ve had the honor of teleprompting a number of events that were for deaf or hard of hearing attendees.

People are conversing, laughing, and making their point all without spoken words. It’s awesome and humbling to be the minority in an environment of people with different abilities than my own.

Talk to an expert

I’m giving you my perspective as a teleprompter operator who’s worked in international, high profile, live events. But there are AV companies and producers who specialize in serving and interfacing with the deaf and hard of hearing communities. So I’ll tell you what may help you in planning, from my admittedly limited experience.

First, there’s no lecterns. Lecterns, sometimes called podiums, aren’t for everyone anyway. They limit where people stand for example. But they ARE useful as a single spot to light, to mic, and for cameras to focus on.

When people sign, they may use their whole body, but primarily their upper body. Blocking them with a lectern takes away the audience’s ability to fully understand them. I’ve worked events where the keynote speaker, who was hearing, was shocked to learn no lectern would be supplied. The producers had to make special arrangements where a lectern was temporarily placed on stage just for that one speaker. I found it interesting and akin to where people in a wheelchair need ramps built and blind people need braille menus.

You’re not alone on stage

For mixed live events of hearing and deaf attendees, there’s an interpreter involved. When someone speaks, an interpreter translates that into sign language. And, when someone signs, there’s an interpreter to speak for the hearing.

Some deaf presenters have preferred speaking interpreters to be “their voice.” For example, Marlee Matlin’s interpreter has been Jack Jason for decades.

Equal spaces in the camera

Many people are familiar with the small window where the ASL interpreter lives on their TV screen. For live broadcasts in the deaf or hard of hearing community, they rightfully demand identical space in camera shots. They’re shown side by side, as equals.

Planning and rehearsals are needed to make sure lighting is equal, and that the stage is marked for talent placement so the teleprompter mirrors are not covering anyone. This photo is an example of where a producer was not balancing the needs of both the cameras and the live audience. A solution would have been to move either the interpreter’s floor marks or move the glass.

Teleprompting ahead of time

What that means is that normally we keep the presenter’s current words at a specific point, with a visual cue called a “carrot.” This allows them to look away from the screen, maybe to a video, or the audience, and to know where to come back to continue reading. Presenters look from one mirror to the next so that carrot is their target.

In this photo, the carrot is a green triangle on the left. Because speaking interpreters are delayed compared to the deaf presenter, teleprompter operators need to be aware of the difference of one or two lines, and pretend the carrot is lower on the screen, maybe at the halfway point. That way the operator can scroll based on delayed hearing, and the presenter can still see their current words a few lines above.

I hope these tips for teleprompting live events for the deaf or hard of hearing communities serves you.