Resolve loneliness with sign language
Resolve loneliness with sign language
With simple apps like Duolingo or Google Translate you can access almost every language in the world. But where is that tool that makes communication between hearing and deaf people easier? Not even a proper sign language dictionary is available. Professor Onno Crasborn has a plan to change that. With his solution he fights against social isolation. Will you help?
Onno Crasborn (49, see photo below) would prefer to start developing two instruments tomorrow. The project plan is ready, he is waiting for funds. His project is a solution to a social problem: the Netherlands has 1.5 million people with hearing problems and there is a relatively high level of loneliness among them. A chat with the neighbor, a conversation at the coffee machine, it is difficult and exhausting if you hear poorly or not at all. You always miss information and are more likely to withdraw. Elderly people whose hearing is deteriorating are also helped with supportive gestures. For all these people, sign language simply means: more contact with your environment.
Finally a good dictionary
Learning some simple gestures should be achievable for everyone, you might think. Surprisingly, there is still no good and complete Dutch sign language dictionary, although there is a lot of demand for it. The material out there is often not complete or inaccurate. Crasborn therefore wants to start by creating a dictionary interface for the existing online Global Signbank database. The 4,000 signs from the Dutch Sign Language contained therein can thus be used by a large audience. The information about those 4,000 gestures is simultaneously enriched with sample sentences in speech-supporting gestures in Dutch Sign Language. Although much research has been done into the form and effectiveness of gestures in the past 25 years, there was little attention for the needs of users. “It is also difficult to make a good dictionary,” explains Crasborn, “There is some visual material, but we also want to add information about the gestures and provide a good linguistic foundation.” Together with the Netherlands Sign Center he wants to expand and improve the existing database of sign videos. While he is at it, he immediately wants to expand the dataset of the Dutch Sign Language in the Global Signbank, because the entire vocabulary of that language is at least five times as large.
Easier to communicate with an app
It is difficult to search in sign language, because you cannot enter characters on your keyboard. Now users must first learn a complicated transcription system or already have knowledge of certain types of hand shapes and movements. As a novice user you do not have that knowledge. Crasborn is therefore investigating how you can make gestures and their meaning discoverable using artificial intelligence. As soon as there is a solution for smart search, the way is clear for the development of an (online) sign dictionary. With this, everyone can easily learn a few gestures, but even the complete Dutch Sign Language. The app can of course also be used in daily communication. “You click on the icon of the camera, like with WhatsApp calls. You film the person making the gesture you don't know yet, or make it yourself in the camera.”
Contributing to social inclusion
For the time being, 1.6 million euros is needed; a small amount for an instrument that will make such an important contribution to social inclusion. "That may seem like a lot, but every little bit helps because it narrows the distance between hearing, hard of hearing and deaf people," Crasborn said. And that's what it's all about in the end.
Do you want to help improve social connection between deaf, hard of hearing and hearing people? Support Onno Crasborn's research with a donation and help to resolve social isolation.