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How Gallaudet is Working to Reach Deaf Readers

WATCH: Deaf News - The founder of Deaf Thought Police from Facebook is in The Washington Post: How Gallaudet University is working to reach young, Deaf readers.


WASHINGTON -- There was once a curious little girl with bright pink hair who loved to climb trees. One day, the little girl met an old man, who gave her fruit from a baobab tree. The fruit was delicious. So the girl set off to find the tree.

We’re not going to tell you what happens next, though. Wouldn’t want to ruin the ending.

This story of the pink-haired child and her fruit-focused adventure is told through an app created in a Gallaudet University lab that aims to give Deaf children something quite valuable -- easy, early access to American Sign Language.

“People like me, Deaf people, don’t ask to be fixed,” said Melissa Malzkuhn, founder and creative director the Motion Light Lab. “We just ask to be able to thrive.”

In this lab at Gallaudet, the private university for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Northeast Washington, research and innovation turn into resources for children and families. There is so much out there for hearing children, Malzkuhn said through interpreters. But much of what is available is sound-based.

“Which is great, there’s been beautiful work done, lots of wonderful applications, but they have absolutely zero benefit for Deaf children, who are visually oriented,” Malzkuhn said. “So that’s where this lab comes in.”

Launched in 2009, the lab in recent years has developed “The Baobab,” the story of the young girl, which has been translated into Russian, Japanese and other languages. It is also home to similar projects known as VL2 Storybook Apps. There is “The Blue Lobster,” which follows the same adventurous child. “The Museum of Errors” features wordplay. “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” and “The Little Airplane That Could” are new spins on classic tales.

“There really aren’t that many resources out there for Deaf children,” Malzkuhn said. “Especially when you’re talking about technology.”

The bilingual storybook apps offer vivid, colorful illustrations of dogs and airplanes and pink-haired heroines. As the stories progress, children can press highlighted words for a video of someone signing and fingerspelling. They can also watch a video of a story told through ASL.

These Deaf men helped NASA understand motion sickness in space

The lab is also using motion-capture technology to develop a more authentic signing experience. A video of an ASL nursery rhyme, done in collaboration with a lab in Paris, shows why that matters: the system can create clear, expressive language delivered through a three-dimensional character.


Motion capture is used to show movement -- usually dance, sports, that kind of stuff. Capturing gestures, though, is a bit more complicated. Typically, Malzkuhn said, the lab’s system has about 50 markers, which are basically raised knobs placed along joints in the body. The lab uses more than 100 markers to make sure the finer points of gesture are preserved.

“I feel like a ninja, because it’s black and I have all these markers on, so I dress completely in black,” she said of the motion capture outfit. “The work is tedious, for putting the markers on the face, I will say that. Because you don’t just pull on a mask.” ... Read More at The Washington Post.

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