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Have you heard the news?: Reporting in sign language

/ 01:45 AM January 08, 2017
Mata News

George Taylor, owner of captioning company GreenVAS Communications, explains through sign language, his free news service for the Filipino deaf community. Kristine Angeli Sabillo/INQUIRER.net

Since he was a child, George Taylor had wanted to be an engineer even if he knew it wouldn’t be easy.

George is deaf. He was born with blue eyes and a hearing impairment, the effects of the rare genetic disorder Waardenburg Syndrome that he inherited from his mother Isabelita. He spent his early years in institutions for the deaf, though he later enrolled in a regular school to have better opportunities.

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“The standard of education for the deaf here is so far behind that of mainstream schools, which is a sad thing,” he said through his sister Kat, who was his interpreter during the interview. “How can I be an engineer if I do not go to a good school?”

George, now 43, began his journey in mainstream education at the Don Bosco Technical College in Mandaluyong as a high school student. Without an interpreter, communication proved difficult especially since he was the lone deaf student in class. But that did not stop him from getting the quality education he wanted. Working closely with his teachers, he asked for additional reading material after class.

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“Writing and reading in advance (helped). I would consult my teachers one-on-one,” George said.

His hard work paid off when he got accepted at the De La Salle University, where he graduated in 1999 with a degree in Electronic Communications Engineering.

George, who now has kids, said he wants his children to have the same opportunities as other people. Two of his three children also have Waardenburg Syndrome. The eldest boy is completely deaf while the other can only hear in one ear.

“That’s why he’s very concerned with communication access,” his sister Kat said.

Remote captioning

“I’m fed up seeing my (deaf) friends and their kids being so far behind in communication (access),” said George, who put his degree to good use in a business that seeks to help deaf people.

Established in 2009, his company GreenVAS provides remote captioning for clients in the US and Japan. Its transcribers also provide real-time subtitles for television and online programs in the Philippines and abroad. Such services help the deaf and the hearing-impaired understand television programs or online videos.

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After seeing how news programs in the Philippines sometimes feature erroneous sign language interpretation, he also decided to start an online web show called Mata News, “to (improve) the deaf’s right to information,” he said of the show that produces 10- to 15-minute videos that summarize the news highlights for the week.

George said most sign language insets in news programs are done by hearing interpreters who embellish sentences with unnecessary signs that confuse deaf people. “Why not have a deaf person explain the news to the deaf?” he said.

To ensure that the information is accurate, the show also has a hearing interpreter who guides the deaf anchor behind the scenes. “The delivery is better,” George said.

The extra effort at accuracy has led to a steady increase in Mata News’ audience and Facebook followers who now number more than 2,200. Each video that features a deaf anchor using sign language to report the news receives an average of 2,000 views.

Local celebrity

Ferdinand Vizmanos, the guy who does the sign language reporting, has become a local celebrity, George said. “Deaf people would walk up to him (and thank him),” he added. “We’ve come to realize that Mata News … is a necessity because (deaf people can be) so misinformed.”

Indeed, Facebook users laud the show’s use of the Filipino Sign Language. “Thank you. (Now) I understand. I want to (watch the) news again,” one Facebook user commented.

The company’s goal now is to offer their services to local television networks. George said they are willing to provide subtitles for news programs for as low as P250 per hour, and can include the sign language interpretation as part of their advocacy.

The show has a long way to go, George acknowledged, but hopefully, Mata News would someday be on TV as well.

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TAGS: Ferdinand Vizmanos, George Taylor, GreenVAS, Mata News, real-time subtitles, remote captioning, sign language reporting
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