Erin Solovey, assistant professor of computer science, has received a $1 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that could lead to significant breakthroughs in technology platforms for the ASL-signing Deaf Community.
Solovey will investigate the feasibility and effectiveness of computer interfaces that will allow deaf individuals to navigate, search, and interact with technology completely in American Sign Language.
The SL1 design has the potential to level the playing field for deaf students seeking to access academic, linguistic, and other informational content online.
“This project takes a human-centered computing approach to build a foundation that advances understanding of how deaf individuals could work and learn in environments that are designed with their needs and preferences at the forefront,” says Solovey.
Jeanne Reis, co-principal investigator on the project, brings over three decades of experience and understanding of the need for this technology. She is director of the Center for Research and Training at The Learning Center for the Deaf (TLC)—a nationally recognized leader in educational, therapeutic, and community services with deaf and hard of hearing children and adults.
“Technology that is truly SL1 accessible has the power to enhance educational opportunities and facilitate lifelong learning, especially in science and technology,” says Reis. “It can also improve career opportunities in STEM fields, broadening participation
in the workforce by an incredibly dynamic, creative, valuable—and very underrepresented—population.”
Solovey and Reis will explore previously developed and novel approaches that will allow users to engage with technological tools through a signed language with no reliance on conventional written language. To that end, they propose that all aspects of a user interface—including menus, search tools, and navigation buttons—be presented visually. The research team will look at the feasibility of incorporating photos, videos, illustrations, and characters representing the linguistic features of ASL vocabulary, such as handshapes, movement patterns, and location.
Throughout the three-year grant, the WPI–TLC team will work with researchers, software engineers, ASL experts, educators, and doctoral students (many of whom are deaf) to ensure that members of the ASL-signing community have key leadership roles and active participation in the project. The team will also collaborate with Gallaudet University, National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and The Learning Center for the Deaf in Framingham, Mass.