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Sign of the Times

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Sign of the Times

While brands and advertisers claim to place inclusivity at the top of their agenda, they often fail to engage with communities with hearing impairments, rarely including sign language options in their campaigns. However, some organizations are recognizing the problem and strive to find a solution.

Alwaleed Philanthropies, an NGO chaired by HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz al Saud, recently conducted a case study on hearing impairment and how digital campaigns that include sign language can make a difference in people’s lives.

Reem Abukhayal, Media and Public Relations Specialist at Alwaleed Philanthropies, tells us more about this initiative.

How is sign language being used (or not) in advertising today in the region?

For people in the region with a hearing impairment, communication challenges are one of the great barriers and they are a group in our society that is not always directly communicated to. We have seen first-hand that many digital and advertising campaigns rarely include sign language options or interpreters, making hearing-impaired people feel excluded.

For Saudi National Day last year, we worked with our advertising partner BOLD to celebrate the day by inspiring inclusivity through an educational and community-driven campaign.  Our aim was to raise awareness and understanding of the Arabic Sign Language (ArSL) and make sure those with hearing impairments felt included. To do this, we launched “Eshar Ya Watan,” a digital campaign that was focused on inspiring more inclusive communication in advertising and online.

What can be done to implement more sign language in advertising today?

Across the globe, more than 5% [of people] live with a level of hearing loss. That’s why Alwaleed Philanthropies feels it is vital that we increase accessibility and awareness within our communities. In Saudi Arabia, there are approximately one million people who live with a hearing impairment; however, with a shortage of sign language interpreters across the country, it is critically important that more sign language should be an element of advertising campaigns. We believe that advertising campaigns should be more inclusive for those with hearing difficulties with ArSL interpreters and a focus on common facial and body gestures to help convey messages and tell stories about their products.

How can technology help the better understanding of sign language?

We live in a time when technology is an integral part of the way we live and communicate, and particularly in recent months, has been the hub of our social interaction. We know the positive impact that technology has had on the lives of people suffering from hearing difficulties, but we believe there’s more that we can do. That’s why Alwaleed Philanthropies, working with BOLD, launched its “Eshar Ya Watan” campaign. Linking with key brands, sign language was added to popular ads to grow widespread support, increase visibility and provide sign language options to reach those with hearing impairments. It had the added bonuses of shedding light on just how much technology has helped those with a hearing impairment.

What was the idea behind tying the campaign with Saudi National Day?

Saudi National day, on September 23, is a day of unity when we all come together and celebrate, regardless of background or ability. The purpose of the “Eshar Ya Watan” campaign was to link improving accessibility for hearing-impaired people with the Saudi National Day celebration. Working with BOLD and a local sign language expert, Alwaleed Philanthropies developed a series of short videos to teach our community simple phrases in Arabic Sign Language, for example, “Sign for your homeland” and the popular Saudi National Day motto. As part of improving accessibility and awareness, we asked the public to tell us what words, common phrases, and songs they wanted to learn how to sign. We continued to engage with the public by consistently monitoring our social media platforms and discussions online. Our strategy focused on harnessing interactive content to promote better communication for everyone and, ultimately, bring communities closer together.

The campaign generated positive sentiment, was part of the wider conversation and, most importantly, connected with people who were celebrating Saudi National Day. The campaign resulted in 1.6 million impressions, 185 views and 28,000 interactions, and received an honorary mention in the innovation and friendly engagement segments in Twitter MENA’s #CouchConference in 2020. Government entities and companies across the country gave positive feedback, and people across Saudi got involved by sending suggestions of songs, online ads and content that they wanted like to see ‘translated’ into sign language.

 

Case Study: the power of the gesture

Incorporating sign language for inclusive digital communications

Introduction

We live in a world where we are constantly receiving and consuming information. However, there is a proportion of the population that is not always directly communicated to. For those who live with a hearing impairment, organizations and communities often fail to ensure accessibility when it comes to communications. For example, most digital campaigns rarely include sign language options. With approximately 5.3% of the world population living with hearing loss1, it is vital that we ensure accessibility for those in need within our communities.

Background

In Saudi Arabia, there are approximately one million people living with a hearing impairment; however, there is a shortage of sign language interpreters across the country. These communication challenges have impacted the employment and education opportunities for people with hearing difficulties; the ultimate effect is that they’re marginalized from society and prevented from fulfilling their potential.

To meet these challenges, technology can provide greater accessibility and understanding of sign language, leading to a more inclusive society. In 2019, Alwaleed Philanthropies, in collaboration with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), developed an app to give those living with hearing impairments greater access to sign language and communications services.

To further teach and enhance the lives of those who have difficulties hearing, more needs to be done to ensure that the digital space unites the community through greater use and visibility of sign language.

Opportunity

Saudi National Day, on the 23rd of September, marks the unification of the country as a Kingdom and sees people from across the country come together to celebrate what Saudi Arabia means to them. It also drives a huge amount of conversation online every year, from individuals and organizations alike. Alwaleed Philanthropies decided to celebrate Saudi National Day by inspiring inclusivity through an educational and community-driven campaign. With the goal of raising awareness and understanding of Arabic sign language (ArSL) and, providing the required communication support for those who have hearing impairments, Alwaleed Philanthropies launched “Eshar Ya Watan,” a digital campaign to inspire inclusive communication.

The strategy

To launch “Eshar Ya Watan,” Alwaleed Philanthropies worked with a local sign language expert to develop a series of short videos teaching the public simple statements in Arabic sign language, such as “Sign for your homeland” and the popular Saudi National Day motto. Additionally, the campaign called on the public to share words, statements, and songs they wanted to learn how to sign. The strategy focused on using interactive content to bring communities closer together.

Building on the public conversation, the campaign linked with key brands and added sign language to popular ads to garner widespread support, increase visibility, and provide sign options to reach those with hearing impairments.

The results

“Eshar Ya Watan” provided greater access to content for people who have a hearing impairment, and successfully increased awareness levels among the public. The campaign generated positive sentiment, was part of the wider conversation, and most importantly, connected with people who were celebrating Saudi National Day. The campaign resulted in 1.6 million impressions, 185 views, and 28,000 interactions and received an honorary mention in the innovation and friendly engagement segments in Twitter MENA’s #CouchConference in 2020.

Government entities and companies across the country gave positive feedback, with people sending suggestions of songs, online ads and content that they wanted like to see ‘translated’ into sign language.

Reem Abukhayal, Media and Public Relations Specialist at Alwaleed Philanthropies commented on the campaign, “Social media has the potential to shape our communities, what you consume plays a big part in how you act. We wanted to change behaviors by educating those who are not familiar with sign language and empowering those who are. The impact goes beyond our screens, it can increase employment opportunities and build closer communities. Ultimately, the actions of each one of us play a role in creating a more inclusive and accessible future.”

1. https://www.who.int/pbd/deafness/news/Millionslivewithhearingloss.pdf?ua=1

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