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SignApp: a smartphone App for interactive sign language - voice communication between Deaf and hearing persons in Ethiopia

ECDD to create a phone App to enable real-time communication between Deaf persons using Ethiopian sign language and persons speaking Amharic

Photo of ECDD
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What problem does your idea solve?

Communication is the biggest challenge facing Deaf persons - at home, in school, when shopping, when using public transport, at work, with hearing friends, when seeking medical help, or for simple communication with anyone. Although Ethiopian Sign Language (EthSL) is used by Deaf persons, very few Ethiopians know sign language and there are very few trained sign language interpreters. A smartphone App to facilitate interactive EthSL and spoken Amharic between two or more persons is proposed.

Explain your idea

Over one million Ethiopians have smartphones, with the number rapidly increasing. By downloading the SignApp, hearing persons and Deaf persons will be able to communicate in real-time. When meeting a Deaf person, a hearing person speaks in Amharic and the SignApp converts speech into Eth Sign Language signs on the smartphone screen. The Deaf person can reply by signing to the phone screen which converts the signs into Amharic voice.

Who benefits?

Everyone. Deaf children, youth and adults will be able to communicate with hearing peers - family members, friends, neighbors, classmates, work colleagues, others including Blind persons who are not able to communicate with Deaf persons. Hearing persons will be able to communicate, even confidentially, with Deaf persons without aid of an interpreter - SignApp is the interpreter! Most youth/adults who are Deaf have smartphones for ease of communication via text messaging - and will use SignApp.

How is your idea unique?

In Asia Microsoft is developing a similar App relying on the use of computers, but more advanced. What ECDD proposes is uniquely for Ethiopia, using available smartphones, existing voice recognition and 3-D image software, and existing Amharic and EthSL dictionaries. The SignApp prototype will be based on a limited number (perhaps 1,000) most common words and signs. ECDD is uniquely placed to support the technical development of the App due to its close working relationships with Addis Ababa University Sign Language and Deaf Culture Dept. and the Ethiopian National Association of the Deaf, and ECDD has Deaf persons and SL interpreters among its members and staff. There are also several private software developer firms in Ethiopia for ECDD to partner with in the development of the SignApp prototype, provided advanced technical support was made available from outside Ethiopia.

Tell us more about you

The Ethiopian Center for Disability and Development (ECDD) is a 10-year old Ethiopian "Residents Charity" presently engaged in 8 donor-funded projects promoting, facilitating and building organizational capacity for disability inclusive mainstream health, education and livelihood services and opportunities in 6 of 9 Regions of Ethiopia. The ECDD Association has 60 members and a staff of 30, the majority persons with disabilities or family members, including 4 Association members who are Deaf.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

What amount of data storage on a typical smartphone will be required to accommodate both the operating system programs (voice output, visual recognition software) and the number of individual Amharic words linked to EthSL signs? Are smartphone cameras able to use a 3-D motion visual recognition program, required for accurate "reading" of a series of individual signs? Can real-time conversion/conversation be achieved without unacceptable delays? Besides Deaf persons, who else might download and use SignApp? What would be the costs of fully developing and testing a SignApp prototype?

Where will your idea be implemented?

  • Ethiopia

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

Expertise in Sector

  • I've worked in a sector related to my idea for more than a year.

Organizational Status

  • We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.

Idea Maturity

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Uchenna Okafor

Since basic education and ownership of smart mobile device are requirements for the success of this idea, model for expanding the school enrollment of the deaf plus providing devices for them should also be incorporated into the design. Besides, there is need to encourage other members of the society through orientation to accept this disabled group and also adopt the use of this App meant to improve their livelihood. Hey! If the prevailing stigma trailing disability in developing countries is not dealt with, bridging this gap may not be very effective.

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