12 Aug 2023

To celebrate World Elephant Day, we’ve worked in collaboration with the Deafness Support Network to create the first British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation at a UK zoo!


This initiative is a unique opportunity for the D/deaf community to access our signs at the Asian elephants habitat in native British Sign Language

It’s estimated that over 150,000 people in the UK use British Sign Language (BSL) as their preferred language. Many D/deaf people often struggle to learn written English as a second language as they are unable to immerse themselves orally within it. With this understanding, we decided to address this through the creation of some new BSL content.

In collaboration with the Deafness Support Network, the Interpretation and Digital team at the zoo have worked closely to create a BSL version of our signs at the Asian Elephant habitat ready for World Elephant Day. Visitors can scan a QR code on their smart phone and access a BSL video featuring Lisa Birtles – a deaf woman and native BSL user presenting the same information on the signs using British Sign Language. The use of a QR code is a great example of how we can use digital to enhance our signs in the zoo, bringing learning to life and enabling more people to access our conservation information.

British Sign Language sign at the Elephants habitat at Chester Zoo
The new BSL signs at the elephants habitat

The new signs have been designed to specifically indicate where people can access our BSL content. Lisa believes that this initiative will revolutionise the zoo experience for BSL users, allowing them to connect with the experience on a profound level:

 “As a BSL interpreter, I understand the impact of effective communication. I am honoured to be part of this project, working alongside Chester Zoo to make the zoo accessible to all BSL users. By bringing the conservation stories about elephants to life through BSL interpretation, we can create an extraordinary experience for BSL users, fostering a deeper connection with the animal kingdom.”

We hope this initial signage will be a stepping stone to more BSL content throughout the zoo. Our work with the D/deaf community has been hugely rewarding and we want to continue building these relationships. Whether learning about endangered wildlife or climate change, this unique project will have a huge impact on the D/deaf community and in making the zoo more accessible.

Gill Reeder, Executive Operations at the Deafness Support Network, expressed her excitement about the new signs. She said:

 “We are thrilled to be working alongside Chester Zoo to make this important change. Our collaboration is a testament to the power of working together, as we strive to create a more inclusive environment that recognises the needs of the BSL community. On World Elephant Day, we celebrate the progress we have made and look forward to continuing this journey toward accessibility for all.”

Reps from the Deafness support network stand by the BSL signs at elephants with Chester Zoo staff
Gill Reeder and Lisa Birtles from the Deafness Support Network stand with Jess Neale, Zoe Batchelor and Lauren Walker from Chester Zoo.

Our mission at Chester Zoo is preventing extinction and one of our major 2030 targets is to empower 10 million people to live more sustainably. We want our mission to reach and be accessible to as many people as possible.

Lauren Walker, Digital Learning Manager at Chester Zoo who has worked on the project said: “Chester Zoo understands the importance of breaking down communication barriers, and the BSL videos will support members of the D/deaf community access information about the magnificent Asian elephants in an engaging and meaningful way.”

Here’s a short clip from the video that visitors can expect to see when scanning the QR code:


Zoë Batchelor, Interpretation Manager emphasised the zoo’s dedication to accessibility and innovation:

“At Chester Zoo, we believe that every visitor should have the opportunity to connect with wildlife and learn about conservation. The introduction of BSL interpretation on our signage is a significant step in our ongoing efforts to make the zoo accessible to all. We’re proud to pioneer the first BSL interpreted animal habitat, and are hoping to expand this initiative throughout the zoo in the future.”


The Deafness Support Network logo
The Deafness Support Network logo