Software enables users to personalise sign language

1 min read

Technology that translates sign language into text is being developed by scientists at Aberdeen University.

The software application is claimed to be the first of its kind in the world that can be used on portable devices and allows users to customise sign language to their own specific needs.

According to a statement, the technology has the potential to transform how sign-language users — from the profoundly deaf to those who have lost hearing in later life — communicate.

Computing scientists at Technabling, a spin-out company of Aberdeen University, are behind the technology, which aims to bridge the gap between sign language and more standard forms of communication.

One of its main focuses is to help young deaf people gain employment opportunities.

Dr Ernesto Compatangelo, a lecturer in computing science at the Aberdeen University and founder and director of Technabling, said: ‘The aim of the technology — known as the Portable Sign Language Translator [PSLT] — is to empower sign-language users by enabling them to overcome the communication challenges they can experience, through portable technology.

‘The user signs into a standard camera integrated into a laptop, netbook, smartphone or other portable device such as a tablet.

‘Their signs are immediately translated into text, which can be read by the person they are conversing with.

‘The intent is to develop a smartphone app that is easily accessible and could be used on different devices, including smartphones, laptops and PCs.’

The PSLT has the potential to be used with a range of sign languages including British Sign Language (BSL) and Makaton.

The number of people in the UK whose first or preferred language is BSL is estimated to be between 50,000 (Action on Hearing Loss) and 70,000 (British Deaf Association).

BSL is, however, a general-purpose language and therefore poses limitations for users, making it impossible for them to easily express certain concepts and terms that are very specific or used only within particular areas of society — for example education and the workplace.

To overcome this, PSLT enables users to personalise sign language to their own individual needs.

Compatangelo said: ‘One of the most innovative and exciting aspects of the technology is that it allows sign-language users to actually develop their own signs for concepts and terms that they need to have in their vocabulary but that they may not have been able to express easily when using BSL.’