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INNOVATING ASL

Social meets sign language

According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, almost 50 million people in the U.S. are deaf or hard of hearing. Cassandra has reported on the rising representation of the deaf community in TV and movies, as well as more inclusive hearing aid design from the fashion industry. But now, startups and social media companies are investing in assistive technologies to encourage more equal and accessible online communities. Read below to learn about three tech innovations that are helping the hard of hearing.

SNAPCHAT

Snapchat wants you to “say it with your hands.” In honor of the Week of the Deaf, Snap launched new AR lenses employing AI and computer vision to translate ASL (American Sign Language). Snapchatters can learn to fingerspell their name, share their learning experiences in chat with friends. Snap says, “we want all members of our community to feel as though our products are made for them -- and that includes native signers.” Importantly, the company invited the voices of the deaf to help in the design process, providing critical input from those that matter most. Jennica Pounds, a deaf software engineer at Snap pitched in on the project, explaining, "A big motivation for me is my own oldest son, who absolutely loves to talk, but has had a hard time learning ASL… It's tech like this that will help families like mine communicate and grow together."

FINGERSPELLING.XYZ

Fingerspelling.xyz is modernizing the way we learn the sign language alphabet. Rather than traditional methods, their app, created in collaboration between the American Society for Deaf Children and Hello Monday, is innovative and engaging for users. Through webcam image detection, the app tracks users' hand movements as they conduct ASL hand positions, while an “algorithm trained on images of correct hand positions analyzes their accuracy,” and gives users personalized instruction. Hello Monday founding partner Anders Jessen says he hopes “that this can become useful for anyone wanting to learn Fingerspelling.”

SLAIT

Spain-based startup, Slait, believes they have a solution that the deaf community has been “waiting for.” The app, a sign language translator built on AI, transcribes ASL hand gestures into text, totally transforming what it means for the deaf and hard of hearing to communicate with friends and family. Rather than emails and text messages, people with hearing difficulties can enjoy face-to-face conversations via video thanks to their science-driven, highly accurate translation model. CEO and co-founder Evgeny Fomin told TechCrunch, “Our mission is to radically improve accessibility for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.” The company is seeking initial investment to get the prototype out and build their crew.