Software helps create educational aids for the hearing impaired
TechBridgeWorld, a Carnegie Mellon research group, recently announced the creation of open-source software that assists educators of children with hearing and speaking disabilities create sign language video dictionaries and voice-activated games, titled Sign Book and Speak Up! respectively. The software was produced in collaboration with the Mathru Educational Trust for the Blind in Bangalore, India.
TechBridgeWorld is “spearheading the innovation and implementation of technological solutions relevant and accessible to developing communities,” according to the group’s website www.techbridgeworld.org. The website explains that by increasing the accessibility of technology in developing countries, they hope to “enhance not only the development process, but also the creativity and diversity of technological innovations accessible to all.”
Over the summer, TechBridgeWorld offered internships in their Innovative Student Technology ExPerience (iSTEP) program, which allowed students to participate in the development of the new software by conducting technology research abroad in Bangalore. The team of students included Erik Pintar, a fifth-year senior in human-computer interaction and electrical and computer engineering; Amal Nanavati, a sophomore computer science major; Maya Lassiter, a junior electrical and computer engineering major; and Minnar Xie, a fifth-year senior in humanities and arts and human-computer interaction.
The team helped launch the Sign Book project because teachers at Mathru’s School for the Deaf lacked proper sign language dictionaries in local languages. Although there are many references to teach American Sign Language, there are over 300 sign languages with unique grammar and signs, and Sign Book helps teachers create a video sign language dictionary with custom signs of the local language.
In a similar fashion, Speak Up! was developed to help educators teach hearing-impaired students, especially those who are unable to work with a speech therapist, to vocalize.
The team constructed a series of games to motivate students and give them feedback as to the type of sounds they were making. Games include causing birds to fly at different altitudes or fish to swim up and down depending on the pitch the student makes at a certain volume. There are ten games in total, and the package is designed for teachers to easily set up and adapt to their curriculum and local culture.
“Sign Book and Speak Up! were developed in such a way to empower teachers and enhance their teaching experience,” M. Bernardine Dias, associate research professor of robotics and TechBridgeWorld founder and director, said in a press release. “By providing teachers with the tools to create their own signs and come up with their own games, these solutions have the potential to be relevant for different communities and their unique needs. By releasing the software open source, our hope is that other educators will find our tools useful and that the open source community will build on the work we started.”
Both Sign Book and Speak Up! are available for download under the MIT Open Source license, keeping with TechBridgeWorld’s vision of a future in which technology is used to build bridges across communities instead of exacerbate divides.