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Signing software to aid hearing impaired people

Avatar brings sign language to life

Computer researchers have invented a new system which should make life easier for deaf people, it was announced today.

The new technology, called SiSi (Say It Sign It), converts the spoken word into British Sign Language (BSL), which is then “signed” by an animated digital character, or avatar.

The system, which has been designed by IBM, would see an avatar ‘pop up’ in the corner of the display screen in use – whether it is a laptop, personal computer, television, meeting-room display or auditorium screen.

Users would be able to select the size and appearance of the avatar.

Digital character

The development would enable people giving presentations in business or education to have a digital character projected behind them signing what they are saying.

An IBM UK spokesman said: ‘This would complement the existing provision, allowing for situations where a sign language interpreter is not available in person.

‘This technology has the potential to make life easier for the deaf community by providing automatic signing for television broadcasts, and making radio news and talk shows available to a new audience over the internet, or by providing automated voicemail transcription to allow them to make better use of the mobile network.’

Guido Gybels, director of new technologies at the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), said: ‘RNID welcomes any development that would make the information society a more equal place for deaf and hard of hearing people.

British Sign Language

‘British Sign Language users are amongst the most disenfranchised citizens as a result of services and products not being designed with their needs in mind.

‘There is clearly still a long way to go before such prototypes become fully capable, off-the-shelf products, but it is encouraging to see that mainstream research is contributing to this objective of a more inclusive society.’

SiSi has been developed in the UK by a research team at IBM Hursley, near Winchester, as part of the company’s global student intern programme, Extreme Blue.

The company spokesman said the project was an example of its collaboration with non-commercial organisations on social and business projects.

The signing avatars and the award-winning technology for animating sign language from a special “gesture notation” were developed by the University of East Anglia, and the database of signs was developed by RNID, he added.

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