Aberdeen, Scotland — A new mobile software application developed at the University of Aberdeen allows users to customize sign language and convert it into text. The application may help young deaf people gain employment opportunities and has the potential to transform how sign language users communicate.

Computing scientists at Technabling, an affiliate company of the University of Aberdeen, are behind the technology, which was developed to bridge the gap between sign language and more standard forms of communication.

Dr Ernesto Compatangelo, a lecturer in computing science at the University of Aberdeen and founder and director of Technabling, explained, “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 app works through the user signing into a standard camera that is integrated into a laptop, netbook, Smartphone, or other portable device, such as a tablet computer. The signs are immediately translated into text that can be read by the person conversing with the sign language user.

Compatangelo said, “The intent is to develop an application, an ‘app’ in Smartphone terms, that is easily accessible and could be used on different devices including Smartphones, laptops and PCs.” A main intent of the app is to enable sign language users to overcome the communication disadvantage they experience, allowing them to fulfill their education potential and enter the job market.

Compatangelo describes British Sign Language (BSL) as a general-purpose language, and therefore it  poses limitations for users to easily express certain concepts and terms that are specific or used in education classes, for example, or a certain workplace. To overcome this, PSLT enables users to personalize sign language to their own individual needs.

“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 they need to have in their vocabulary, but they may not have been able to express easily when using BSL,” Compatangelo said.

Compatangelo cites an example of a student who is being trained in construction and building, where there is no sign in BSL for dovetail joint.

“A student using PSLT can create their own sign to mean ‘dovetail joint,’ allowing them to communicate easily with their tutor or other students in their class, without the limitations imposed when communicating solely with BSL,” said Compatangelo.

The PSLT has the potential to be used with a range of sign languages including BSL and Makaton. It is anticipated that the technology will be available as a product by 2013, but it is unclear whether the app will be developed for American Sign Language (ASL), which has similarities, but is not interchangeable with BSL.

Scientists on the project are now encouraging sign language users from Aberdeen city and shire to become involved with the app’s ongoing development.

For more information on the PSLT, visit http://www.pslt.org/

SOURCE: University of Aberdeen