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What Did You Say... or Sign?

Use of sign language can become a new normal way for everyone to communicate across distance.

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How might we interact with customers without opening our mouths, yet still communicate effectively and convey emotion? What if we could communicate with everyone without speaking?

While learning another language entirely can be daunting, elements of sign language can be used in daily business interactions to continue efficient communication while reducing the need for close proximity for hearing and minimizing airborne particles generated by speaking. This can be useful for both in-person and virtual interactions.

I have witnessed and personally experienced positive effects of using elements of American Sign Language to communicate with people (all except one were hearing) in very loud environments and across distances greater than the current social distancing protocols. We were not all fluent in ASL, but could at least communicate by using numbers, spelling words out, and gesturing with common essential signs. We initially learned to be able to communicate better with our deaf team member, but it stuck as another normal way of talking.

For example, in service industries, ordering and customer interaction could be done via standard signs instead of speaking or even having to touch a screen. Businesses can have visual and easy-to-understand signs/guides/videos on display on-site or virtually. As a virtual example, AI and motion recognition could be used to translate orders from motion to text or other code, which can then be processed digitally to communicate the information or trigger some process.  It could also be translated to speech and vice versa for the vision and motion impaired. All would need to be co-created with the deaf and hard of hearing community.

What is the need are you focusing on?

Need to continue business communications without close proximity or spreading airborne particles.

Which type of submission are you sharing?

  • Identifying a gap that needs to be addressed

Describe the business pivot or adaptation in 3-4 sentences.

Use sign language in daily business interactions to continue efficient communication while reducing the need for close proximity for hearing and minimizing airborne particles generated by speaking. This would be useful for both in-person and virtual interactions. New products and services related to the making of content and mediums for communicating the appropriate signs/gestures to use, as well as applications of robotics and remote motion control, can be created. Continuously develop and train AI for motion recognition and application towards signing, and further inclusive design.

Do you plan to implement this solution?

  • Maybe-with additional support

Describe the impact that this solution will create in the world.

Socially, this can help narrow the gap between deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people. Research and developments related to signing and helping the hearing impaired in other ways could receive more investment than in the past if it is reframed. This could also help diminish spoken language barriers between foreigners and locals once people are able to travel again. Resorting to gestures is an instinctive way people communicate when at a loss for words. There are many languages that already have an existing standard signed form, incorporating elements of local culture and also have common elements with other signed languages. People would need to be careful about difference in meaning of signs between cultures, but visually educating people of different backgrounds can offer both comfort and cultural experience/exchange when communicating. For regions without standard sign language, essential signs can be developed.

What is your profession?

Graduate Student

Where are you located (country)?


Where are you located (region)?

  • Eastern Asia

What industry is your business/company in?

  • Business/Consulting
  • Manufacturing

What kind of stakeholders and partnerships are needed to pursue this solution?

  • Funding- Grants
  • Funding- Investment
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- NGOs
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- Private Sector
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- Government
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- Civil Society Groups
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- Grassroots/Community Groups

Do you need help building partnerships and finding partners?

  • Yes

If Yes to the above, please share 1-2 sentences describing the specific help you desire.

Connections with partners who are developing AI applications for signing and gesturing would be needed. We would also need partnership with local deaf communities and businesses willing to develop, test and implement.

What do you think are the main barriers to implementing this solution?

Respect for deaf culture and co-creation with the hard of hearing and deaf community is essential. This is not necessarily a barrier, but something to take seriously to avoid mass cultural appropriation and instead work together towards a new level of communication that can be inclusive and effective. Change of mindset from communicating verbally towards using nonverbal communication would be difficult for many people.


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