Isn’t Christmas just the most magical time of the year? With all of the wonderful sounds of the Christmas Carollers singing the traditional carols, radio stations and stores playing those catchy Festive songs that get stuck in your head for hours on end, the excitable noises children make when they see Santa appear on TV!?
Well, with 32 million deaf children around the world, the sad reality is that many of them don’t get to hear or experience these sounds that many of us take for granted at Christmas time. They also don’t get to experience that close connection with getting lost in a book at bedtime when a story is being read to them, at a time when a child’s mind is the most imaginative.
I recently joined Huawei on a 3 day trip to Lapland where I got to find out more about their latest release; StorySign. When I initially read the invite where it described a little bit about the app and how it aimed to help deaf children globally, I was naturally very intrigued, especially as it is so close to home for me being deaf myself and is a subject I am very passionate about when it comes to raising as much awareness for the deaf community!
After having had our breakfast, we then sat down to a presentation where the StorySign app got demonstrated to us. To create StorySign Huawei enlisted the help of experts;
Mark Wheatley - the executive director of the European Union of the Deaf.
Neil Pymer - the creative director at Aardman Animations best known for Wallace & Gromit.
StorySign is an app in which Huawei want to help create an authentic way for deaf children to be able to interact with stories at bedtime. By using AI (Artificial Intelligence), it also features Image Recognition and Optical Character Recognition. The power of Image Recognition means that the books can be read from a 45 degree angle, creating a natural way to read a book at bedtime without having to worry about the best position of the book for the child to be able to understand. The Optical Character Recognition means that the books can be translated from words into Sign Language giving a more accurate reading, whilst the AI helps power the speed of the turning of pages which enables children to keep stimulated without having to wait too long to find out what happens next.
Neil Pymer gave us an insight into how the app had been created, telling us how each facial movement and hand movement in sign language had all been recorded and looked over at with a fine tooth-comb to ensure that the Sign Language is brought to life in the most natural way. I was pleased to see that facial movement had been translated and considered into the app, as with many deaf people, facial expressions and movements help to get their point across as well being able to lip read to fully understand what they’re saying! They came up with an avatar/character in the form of; ‘Star’. A young, animated girl who translates the words from the pages of a book, into Sign Language onto Huawei’s mobile screens.
Mark Wheatley signed on stage that he hopes that the StorySign app will create an impact in the deaf community and after having seen a short-film of deaf children who had visited Lapland prior to our arrival just a few days beforehand, it was abundantly clear to see that an impact had already been made. The children’s faces when Star appeared signing the words from the pages of the book onto the Huawei mobile screen were all lit up! The video itself was incredibly touching and really hammered home just how important and how much of a difference StorySign can, and is already making.
Once the presentation had ended, we were all then given an opportunity to use the StorySign app ourselves and hover it over the pages from the ‘Where’s Spot’ book, and that initial moment when Star first appeared, was magical! I think I can speak for everybody who had that opportunity of seeing it firsthand that we were all in amazement at how lifelike the animation of Star was and that the Sign Language was incredibly detailed down to the hand movements, and facial expressions.
Going to Lapland to be able to see StorySign ahead of its release was an experience I’ll never forget, and it has emphatically hit home just how important it is for any child to be able to have that special ‘Stories at Bedtime’ routine with their loved ones!
This short trailer below features Maisie who you may recognise from the Oscar Winning Movie: The Silent Child.
For me, I was a little shocked as to how this app has only just come about, and that there wasn’t anything else like this out there before Huawei’s release. It takes 43 minutes on average to read to a deaf child, yet it only takes 31 minutes to read to a hearing child! Deaf children are already at a disadvantage when they go to school, many of them being mainstream schools which don’t have the facilities or resources to be able to support deaf children with their literacy skills meaning many of them get left behind. With StorySign, this can help bridge that gap by improving the literacy skills of deaf children whilst enabling them to feel connected to the story!
StorySign is available from Google Play Store and Huawei’s AppGallery across 10 countries in Western Europe. With the app having only been released just 2 days ago, Huawei have set up the app to be able to translate the ‘Where’s Spot?’ book, but hopes to add to its library once the StorySign movement gets underway. To help expand the library for more books to be translated into Sign Language, simply donate here.
Thank you Huawei for inviting me along, it’s been a magical experience!
Will you be trying out StorySign? Have you already tried it? If so, what do you think to it? Do you think it will make a difference to the deaf community? What other books would you like to see be translated? I would love to hear your thoughts on this as I genuinely believe it will make a huge difference so leave me a comment below so we can continue spreading awareness! Don’t forget to click the ‘like’ button also!