Shalva inspires broadcasters to offer more accessibility for Eurovision viewers

Broadcasts, including Saturday final, available with sign language, extra narrative for visually impaired, simple language for cognitively impaired

The Shalva Band performs during a rehearsal for their guest appearance at the second semifinal of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, May 15, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
The Shalva Band performs during a rehearsal for their guest appearance at the second semifinal of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, May 15, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The broadcast of the Eurovision grand final Saturday night will be more accessible to viewers with special needs than in any previous years, thanks in large part to the Shalva Band’s strong showing in the reality TV series that helped crown Israel’s candidate for the popular song contest.

The Shalva Band, a group of musicians with various disabilities, performed an emotional song in the second semifinal on Thursday night.

The group almost became Israel’s candidate for the Eurovision, before being forced to bow out of the “Rising Star” competition due to requirements over Shabbat rehearsals for the Eurovision final.

The Eurovision organization called the band inspirational for “inspiring us to think differently about challenges and acceptance” while many viewers at home, and host Bar Rafaeli, said the Thursday performance brought them to tears.

(Note: This official Eurovision video may not play in the US)

For the first time, the Eurovision final on Saturday night will be accessible to Israelis with many different types of disabilities, although viewers abroad will not be able to enjoy the live broadcasts due to the song competition’s strict broadcast rights.

Kan Digital and cognitive disability specialists from the Israeli Institute on Cognitive Accessibility of Agudat Ami and Ono Academic College have created YouTube channels which will show the broadcast in a variety of different ways.

One channel will have simultaneous translation to sign language, another channel will have live commentary featuring extra narration about the stage effects for visually impaired people, and a third channel will have “simultaneous simplification” or real-time audio translation into simplified Hebrew for people with cognitive disabilities, or the elderly and immigrants who do not speak Hebrew as a first language. All of the accessible broadcasts are available in Israel on the Kan Eurovision Youtube channel.

The broadcast for visually impaired people will also be available on the radio on KAN TARBUT (104.9 and 105.3 FM) or online. On TV, there will be Arabic and Russian broadcasts on MAKAN (Channel 33), and the KAN Educational Channel (Channel 23) will have simultaneous translation for sign language. These were also available for the semifinals held this week.

“Last year there wasn’t anything like this, so we’re really in shock [about the sign language accessibility],” said Viktoria Alyashive, who is hearing impaired and was at the Eurovision Village in Tel Aviv on Thursday night for the second semifinals, along with a large group of friends, some of whom were also hearing impaired.

“This kind of accessibility is really important to deaf people. When we go to a club or a concert, we can feel the vibrations and feel like we’re part of the music. But when we watch on TV, we don’t get that same feeling. So having the sign language is so important for us,” she said.

Alyashive said she wished the sign language interpretation for daily news broadcasts could take up a bigger part of the screen, because some people with hearing impairments also have visual or cognitive impairments. This makes reading subtitles difficult, which is why sign language is essential for the community, she said.

For the Eurovision Israeli Sign Language broadcast, interpreters are shown much larger, about the same size as the artist singing. Alyashive said the way the interpreters dance along with the songs during the contest helps viewers like her get a feel for the rhythm of the songs and makes her feel much more involved.

“We have seen [Eurovision] stressing this idea of accessibility,” she said. “This is the kind of change we want to see. We want to say to people, deaf people and hearing people are the same. We’re not a lower class of people, we want the same rights and experiences.”

A number of organizations are also getting into the spirit of accessibility during Eurovision, spurred by Shalva and a greater emphasis on reaching out to the public in a myriad of different ways.

Jewish Agency emissaries at 30 different locations around the world translated Israel’s Eurovision song entry by Koby Marimi into American Sign Language and released a YouTube video.

Another group of 60 people with different disabilities from the “Chimes Israel” and “Maon Daho” Association in Israel participated in a specially choreographed video of last year’s Eurovision winning song, “Toy,” by Neta Barzilai. Chimes Israel aims to integrate people with disabilities into the community, so the video, which included dance students from the Tel Aviv Arts School, promoted that message.

“I want everyone to see me, so that I will be famous,” said Vicki Lupo, a 30-year-old from Rishon LeZion with Down syndrome who participated in the video.

Although Lupo generally likes dancing traditional Israeli folklore or to Mizrahi music, she was excited to take part in a video about Eurovision because “the entire country is talking about it right now.” “I want the entire world to see how I dance, because I am a very good dancer,” she said.

Lupo added that watching the Shalva Band perform on Thursday night’s semifinal was “very special.”

“They have Down syndrome and I also have Down syndrome,” she said. “[Some people] on the stage, they looked exactly like me!”

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