There are scrambled eggs, poached eggs, boiled eggs, fried eggs, and about a dozen other methods to prepare eggs. In other words, there are many ways. The only consistent thing about any of the methods mentioned in the beginning sentence is the word “eggs”.
But in Japanese Sign Language (JSL), for example, there are 20 different ways to communicate the word “egg”. To make matters more complicated, the sign for “egg” is different between sign languages. JSL is different from American Sign Language, Korean Sign Language, British Sign Language, Kenyan Sign Language, and basically all 126 sign languages in the world.
Although there are many ways to prepare eggs, there are even more ways to describe how to prepare eggs in sign language.
If you wanted to order an egg in France, you might take out an English-French dictionary to learn the word “oeuf”. But what if you wanted to translate between sign languages? Or between sign language and written language? Well that’s too bad because there’s no easy mechanism to do so. Until now that is.
Junto Ohki has been trying to develop the world’s first crowdsourced online dictionary for sign language, SLinto. The tool is designed to make it easy to look up signs. He has also developed a keyboard that can input signs. Because all sign language is spoken with two hands, the keyboard can be universal, even though sign language is not.
The advantage of being crowdsourced, like Wikipedia, is that new words, jargon, and slang can be incorporated into an up-to-date online dictionary.
In Ohki’s native Japan, 50 percent of students go on to university compared to 16 percent of the deaf community. The country doesn’t allow those who are deaf to get a driver’s license or work in many professions. Ohki founded ShuR in 2008 with a mission to create an equal society for the deaf. The company’s SLinto could also become a database that is used to provide sign-language related services to the deaf.
During the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, Ohki put together a website that provided critical information and 24-hour translation services for the deaf community, who had limited information to the events that were going on. Previously, while working with the deaf community, he realized that they had access to little services, even for something as basic as television programming.
With SLinto, he hopes that the deaf can participate more actively in society and improve their quality of life.
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