The deaf lead the blind in Norwegian TV studio
Bergen -- In a small studio in the Norwegian city of Bergen, three colleagues put together the final edit of television shows. Nothing extraordinary, had it not been that all of them are deaf.
Lip-reading is an essential part of the job which involves chopping up and sewing together programmes to be shown on national TV.
The three men work for a small Norwegian company called Asvo Bergen, which was set up to help those with hearing disabilities retrain and find new jobs.
"I’m the one who decides where to start and where to end the episodes," enthuses Gunnar Fauskanger, who is the leader of the group. "I must find a place where the plot is most exciting. I lip-read what is said and make sure that I don’t make the cut right in the middle of the dialogue.”
He proudly shows off his "baby" — an editing suite covered in buttons with wires that snake between a wall of TV screens and his sound equipment.
Fauskanger has been deaf since 1982 when the wild celebrations of 15,000 football fans at a Norwegian cup game permanently damaged his hearing.
But despite that, he remains an ardent follower of his favourite club Brann Bergen, who romped home 4-2 against Mjoendalen on that fateful evening.
"You can change your wife, you can change your job, but you can’t change your football team," he jokes.
Some of the world’s most famous shows have passed through Fauskanger’s capable hands before hitting Norwegian TV screens, including Simon Cowell’s American Idol and America’s Got Talent.
The fifty-something former electrician carefully prepares the master tapes, cutting out commercial breaks and adapting foreign TV programmes to Norwegian standards, before his colleagues make copies on DVD.
One of them, Steinar Heggertveit, is almost completely blind.
"The little vision he has on one eye is very sharp and he can tell Gunnar when he does something wrong," says his boss, Nina Hartley, the director of Asvo Bergen.
But Fauskanger rarely makes mistakes, thanks to a piece of technology that allows him to "see" the sounds of the programmes he edits.
"In most cases, there are also music and sound effects that I have to fade down. If I look carefully, I can distinguish the difference between speech, music and sound effects by using an audioscope," he said.
An audioscope is a small screen which translates the different sounds into graphics, allowing the editors to "read" them.
Asvo Bergen was founded in 1994 as a not-for-profit organisation to help provide work for people with hearing disabilities. Around one third of its 60 employees are deaf or hard of hearing.
As well as its editing business, the company runs a bakery and a fruit delivery service for local companies in the area.
Nina Hurtley, who is not deaf herself, speaks highly of her disabled employees.
"Deaf people too can do a good job. We would be out of business if they didn’t. But as a matter of fact we make a lot of money," she said, pointing out that the firm posts a 22-million-kroner (2.7-million-dollar, 2.0-million-euro) yearly turnover.
"They couldn’t cope with an ordinary working life," said Hurtley. "Here they can work part-time or with many breaks in an environment where signs are the official language. We try to accommodate their needs."
One example of this is the use of sign language translators to help Asvo’s deaf employees. If someone calls them by telephone, there will be someone on hand to explain what is being said.
"Some clients don’t even know that we are deaf," Fauskanger said.