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Alternatives for sign language

From: Charles McCathieNevile <charles@sidar.org>
Date: Fri, 8 Aug 2003 16:38:59 +0100
Cc: "Section 508.US" <tagi11@cox.net>, Joe Clark <joeclark@joeclark.org>, WAI-IG <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
To: Access Systems <accessys@smart.net>
Message-Id: <6DA0AA7B-C9B6-11D7-8D6A-000A958826AA@sidar.org>

This is an interesting question.

It makes very good sense to allow people who use sign language (or 
people who use graphic symbols) to communicate in their natural medium. 
And yes, in order to make this accessible, one of the requirements is 
to have a textual version available.

This is actually technically reasonably straightforward for most 
existing symbolic languages (as used by people who cannot handle much 
text) - but I think that's an accident. These systems (Bliss, the 
software produced by widgit or WWAAC, etc) tend to provide a symbol for 
a word. The system can be made easily to provide an alt which is the 
relevant word or phrase - some do this better than others in practice 
of course.

"Signed english" is similar - it uses sign language to replace english 
"text" more or less automatically, so such a system could easily 
generate the text as well as the signs. (As an aside, the same 
mechanisms will make VoiceXML a good way of producing visual interfaces 
for people who are Deaf, or prefer graphic interaction - and after all, 
ordering a pizza is something that many people can do by poiinting to 
the things they want even if they don't speak the language of the pizza 
company. Just think about selecting what you want in a shawarma if you 
don't speak arabic). The problem is that signed english is not popular 
with Deaf people. It uses english grammar and expression.

Sign languages for the Deaf (I know of three used in english-speaking 
countries besides "signed english") normally have their own grammar and 
syntax, their own ways of adding emphasis or modifying the "tone" of a 
statement. They are generally recognised as being languages in their 
own right, and not just a pictorial representation of words in a spoken 
language. Which brings up all the problems associated with translation 
- it is not easy, and automatic translators are still quite primitive.

This explains why sign language users (not all people who are deaf are 
sign users)  generally prefer sign language interpretation to 
captioning - with captions they have to read what amounts to a foreign 
language, and reading text is not a skill that is easy to acquire 
without hearing (since it is based on an abstract representation of the 
sound of a language, whereas sign languages tend to be based on an 
abstract representation of visual experience of the world, and since 
sign languages generally don't have a written form).

So being able to communicate in their own language, and not required to 
use a foreign language for chat systems etc is important.

Note that typically this applies to the minority who lose their hearing 
before they learn to speak a language - people who are hearing impaired 
or lose their hearing later in life, tend to be more (or often only) 
proficient in a spoken/written language, so captions are indeed 



On Friday, Aug 8, 2003, at 03:21 Europe/London, Access Systems wrote:

> and while I don't condone this action the site is designed to allow 
> deaf
> folks to chat using sign language without text.  so how would you 
> suggest
> this work..???  an "alt" of sign to text??
Charles McCathieNevile                          Fundación Sidar
charles@sidar.org                                http://www.sidar.org
Received on Friday, 8 August 2003 11:40:02 UTC

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