British Sign Language - national plan: progress report

A progress report on the British Sign Language (BSL) national plan.

11. Culture and the Arts

11.1 Progress in Culture and the Arts

Participation and enjoyment of culture and the arts is integral to the Scottish Government's ambition to make Scotland the best place in the world for BSL users. The National Plan recognises that D/deaf people play an important part in the artistic community, and that the audience for the arts includes BSL users who are entitled to support and consideration.

The Plan aims to support BSL users in pursuing careers in the arts, to make performances and exhibitions more accessible for BSL users, and to increase the availability of information about the arts in BSL.

Achievements since 2017 include

  • A public consultation, A Culture Strategy for Scotland, prepared with input from BSL sessions run by the BDA. The resulting report is the first of its kind available in BSL.
  • Visit Scotland and Galleries Scotland have hosted sessions for staff to learn about BSL, and about how to support BSL users.
  • BSL interpreters have been working in Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) performances, including live and digital events for children. Since 2020, all RSNO digital work has been subtitled as standard.
  • Creative Scotland has supported the Federation of Scottish Theatres in providing BSL/English interpreting for performances, films and events.
  • Scottish Opera has recently engaged a BSL artist on a one-year contract.
  • The National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) is integrating BSL into all its productions, delivering more than 40 BSL interpreted performances per year between 2018 and 2020. NTS produces signed trailers and introductions for all its work.
  • NTS has worked with a number of BSL-using theatre practitioners, including actors, a playwright and an assistant director.
  • Historic Environment Scotland (HES) is running a four-year doctoral partnership with Heriot Watt University, exploring the relationship between the deaf community and the heritage environment.
  • HES has developed BSL tours for sites including Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle, Linlithgow Palace and the Engine Shed. During the COVID-19 pandemic, online virtual tours of HES properties have been produced, including BSL versions.
  • In 2020 HES supported a recruitment video with BSL, and worked with Inclusion Scotland to offer an internship to a BSL user.
  • The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is delivering a BA Performance degree in BSL with English, with funding from the SFC and in partnership with Solar Bear, the organisation behind Deaf Youth Theatre, Britain's only permanent youth theatre for BSL users.
  • Creative Scotland's website has sections in BSL, while most of their public events have BSL interpreters.
  • Glasgow Film Theatre's Visible Cinema, funded by Creative Scotland, is working to improve the cinema experience for deaf people.
  • Visit Scotland's website is under development and will promote the Scottish Government's online BSL video relay service, 'contactSCOTLAND-BSL'.

11.2 Actions and outcomes

Action No. 54


Enable BSL users* to take part in culture and the arts as participants, audience members and professionals.

Update June 2021

RSNO's digital learning work have all included BSL interpreters; for example, these have included five Nursery Sounds digital shorts, Tara the Tugboat a full length concert for nursery children, Children's Classic Concert's the Night Before Xmas which was also audio described and Gaspard the Fox their forthcoming digital schools concerts. Furthermore, since February 2020, all RSNO digital work has been subtitled as standard.

Creative Scotland supports the Federation of Scottish Theatres (FST) to produce Access Scottish Theatre listings showing arts events, films and performances with BSL/English interpreting available throughout Scotland. Regularly Funded Organisations are required to deliver their Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion Plans as part of their contractual relationship with Creative Scotland. As a result, BSL integration and interpretation has increased in the performing arts sector. Creative Scotland's Open Fund has supported a range of BSL integrated projects. The Fund's guidance outlines expectations regarding accessibility.

Scottish Opera provide subtitles for the majority of opera performances (subject to touring practicalities) and subtitles for all films. They invite everyone working with the Company to advise any health concern or disability and would expect to offer support to anyone that may use BSL in the course of their role. Scottish Opera undertakes regular reviews to assess if/where it might need to consider offering BSL and would expect this to continue.

National Theatre of Scotland is fully committed to ensuring that all individuals have access to its programme of work. The organisation is engaged in several initiatives and partners to ensure it is working strategically to achieve better representation across audiences, participants, or artists.

1) Audience members: National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) aims to offer integrated BSL/English interpreting for all its productions. Integrated BSL enables BSL users to have a much better experience as the BSL interpreter is part of the action on stage rather than isolated to one side of the stage.

In 2018/19 and 2019/20, NTS delivered 46 BSL interpreted and integrated performances each year.

The Company has also extended its commitment of accessibility to its digital activity in 2020/2021 (see 55 below). The organisation is continuing to trial the use of SUBPACs in some of its shows, a transformative wearable audio technology that converts sound into high fidelity vibrations for d/Deaf and hard of hearing audiences. 244 people accessed SUBPACs during the Futureproof Festival in 2018.

Consequently, the proportion of BSL users within the NTS audience (based on questionnaire responses) has seen a continual growth.

2) Participants: National Theatre of Scotland also aims to open all its activities to BSL users. Recent examples include:

  • The autumn 2020 edition of the Coming Back Out Social Dance Clubs, in partnership with Scottish Queer International Film Festival (42 participants)
  • Lament for Sheku Bayoh post show discussion and 'safe space' (104 participants), November 2020.

3) Professionals: The National Theatre of Scotland was an active partner in the initiative: Creative Licht (other partners included SignArts, BOP (Birds of Paradise, leading disabled led theatre company) and Solar Bear (theatre company working with deaf and hearing artists and young people) and funded by Creative Scotland. The project brought together BSL/English Interpreters working in Scotland with those working in the creative industries with the ambition of up-skilling all those who took part to develop and improve approaches to interpreted performances. The project is ongoing.

In the past few years, we have employed:

  • 1 BSL using playwright.
  • 1 BSL using assistant director.
  • 8 BSL using actors for artistic projects.
  • 5 BSL using actors to create BSL introductions.
  • 3 BSL using actors to translate between English and BSL for digital artistic projects.
  • 4 BSL using actors in development of artistic projects.
  • 3 BSL using artists be to BSL consultants on artistic projects.

Action No. 55


Support professional pathways to enable BSL users* to consider a career in culture and the arts.

Update June 2021

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) have a four-year doctoral partnership with Heriot Watt University exploring the relationship between the deaf community and the heritage environment, which has offered opportunities in academic year (2021-22) for placements with students from the BSL studies course to work with HES. HES produced a video as part of its Board recruitment exercise in 2020 and supported this with BSL. HES have worked with Inclusion Scotland to support an internship for a BSL user in 2020.

Two rounds of the Create: Inclusion Fund have been delivered and the third round is currently in planning. This fund is to specifically increase the diversity of people in the arts, screen and creative industries, supporting development and progress of creative practice and professional development. Solar Bear, a Regularly Funded Organisation, is supported to deliver a partnership with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland for its BA Performance in British Sign Language and English (also funded by the Scottish Funding Council). BA students use BSL and/or spoken English. It is their choice. The course explores how to create performance through both languages. Solar Bear runs Deaf Youth Theatre (DYT), Britain's only year-round, permanent youth theatre for BSL users, as well as the deaf, deafened or hard of hearing. With a reputation for ground-breaking work in creating theatre productions that are accessible to deaf and hearing audience, DYT is producing a new generation of professional deaf actors. Creative Scotland also funded a two-year training initiative called Creative Licht to provide a training programme for SLIs to develop performance skills and work in partnership with performing arts sector. Creative Licht was a partnership between Sign Arts, National Theatre of Scotland, Solar Bear and Creative Scotland.

Action No. 56


Increase information in BSL about culture and the arts on websites and at venues.

Update June 2021

A summary of A Culture Strategy for Scotland is available in BSL: Creative Scotland includes subtitling on all publically available films. Their website also has a welcome in BSL and all funding guidance is BSL interpreted. Across their programmes they expect funding applicants to include Access Costs in their budgets. All Creative Scotland's public events are also BSL interpreted as default in planning. Visible Cinema at the Glasgow Film Theatre is run in partnership with Film Hub Scotland and funded by Creative Scotland. The ambition of Visible Cinema is to increase awareness of cinema access and to provide a relaxed and welcoming environment in which those who are D/deaf or hard of hearing can enjoy a range of films.

National Theatre of Scotland creates BSL trailers or introductions for all its artistic work, and it aims to give as much information about the BSL/English interpreting of a performance on its website, such as name of interpreter, level of integration etc.

8 video trailers were created in 2018/2019 ,12 in 2019/2020 and 7 in 2020/21. They had combined views of almost 38,000.

All videos published on the Company's website and/or on social media are captioned.

The organisation is also undertaking research to determine what the best access solution for short films is: either a BSL introduction and a captioned short film, or a BSL interpreted short film. This is important as short films are often viewed on phones which might make the BSL interpreted version too small to be accessed comfortably. The research will include focus groups with BSL users and a D/deaf artist. NTS is planning to publish the results of this research for the benefit of the sector.

Action No. 57


Improve access to the historical environment, and cultural events, and performing arts and film for BSL users*.

Update June 2021

In 2020 Historic Environment Scotland (HES) published its BSL Plan 2020-24 setting out its ambitions in relation to communication and engagement with BSL users. Over the past 3 years HES has developed BSL Tours at ITS sites including Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle, Linlithgow Palace and The Engine Shed. Its large events (e.g. Castle of Light 2019) included as part of its programme set days and times for BSL Tours. For its annual Community Heritage Conference in 2019, HES was supported by electronic note-takers and BSL interpreters.

HES have a four-year doctoral partnership with Heriot Watt University in place which will explore the relationship between the deaf community and the heritage environment. This has also offered opportunities in academic year (2021-22) for placements with students from the BSL studies course to work with HES.

HES produced a video as part of its Board recruitment exercise in 2020 and supported this with BSL and all HES videos produced provide subtitles.

As part of initiatives to promote 'hidden histories' HES have produced blogs highlighting individuals from the past with lived experienced of deafness.

HES's learning and inclusion team worked remotely with 12 young people through its Heritage Remixed programme to coordinate the scripting and recording of 12 short historic fiction films including a BSL perspective.

COVID-19 has resulted in HES sites being closed and subsequently has curtailed its events activity over 2020. In response to this HES have worked with Inclusion Scotland to support an internship for a BSL user. Development work has also taken place to produce online BSL tour versions. HES's Community Heritage Conference has converted to digital monthly sessions over 2021 where BSL/English interpreting is available to support BSL users' participation.

As the rest of the sector, National Theatre of Scotland turned to digital in reaction to the COVID-19 crisis in March 2020. The Company was determined to make its digital work as accessible as its touring work.

In spring/summer 2020, as part of the Company's crisis responsive Scenes for Survival project, National Theatre of Scotland commissioned a special extract from Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting, performed in BSL by actor Brian Duffy, as well as Squeezy Yoghurt, written by D/deaf artist Bea Webster and performed in BSL by D/deaf actor Brooklyn Melvin, and Robert Softley Gale's Ian and Sheena featuring BSL performance interpretation from Natalie MacDonald.

44 video introductions were created to enable BSL users to have a better experience when accessing short films with captions.

Our streamed artistic works Lament for Sheku Bayoh and Rapunzel were both released with BSL interpreted versions included.

The Company is soon to launch a new augmented reality app, Ghosts, written and directed by Adura Onashile exploring slavery and empire in Glasgow's Merchant City. A BSL video version will be made available to D/deaf audiences, which is being created by two D/deaf BSL using actors.

Action No. 58


Seek the views of BSL users* to ensure that the Scottish Government's new culture strategy organisations for Scotland recognises the value of BSL and Deaf culture, and the contribution it makes to the health, wealth and success of people and our communities.

Update June 2021

The public consultation on A Culture Strategy for Scotland was the first Scottish Government consultation to be made available in BSL format. The Scottish Government also supported specific BSL consultation sessions, facilitated by the British Deaf Association in Scotland, to ensure that the voices of BSL users and Deaf culture was fully represented in the vision, ambitions, aims and guiding principles set out in the A Culture Strategy for Scotland. Diversity and inclusion remains a cross-cutting priority of the National Partnership for Culture, which was established to support delivery of the culture strategy, and is embedded within its agreed work programme for 2021. A Culture Strategy for Scotland (

Action No. 59


Train staff in the major tourist information centres about the Scottish Government's nationally funded BSL online interpreting video relay service (VRS) called 'contactSCOTLAND-BSL' and how to help our D/deaf and Deafblind BSL visitors access the service. This work will be delivered by VisitScotland.

Update June 2021

VisitScotland's equality specialist arranged and hosted a session for colleagues at the Edinburgh information centre about the service. Further sessions will be arranged as allowed.

Galleries Scotland provided Deaf Awareness Training and an Introduction to British Sign Language Training to all interested staff in March 2021.

Action No. 60


Promote the use of the Scottish Government's nationally funded BSL online interpreting video relay service (VRS) called 'contactSCOTLAND-BSL' on the VisitScotland website.

Update June 2021

VisitScotland's ( site is being redeveloped and this will be added shortly.



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