Story App for Deaf Is US Hit; AN App Conceived and Developed in the North East to Make Reading Fun for Deaf Children Has Been Launched in the UK and North America. KAREN DENT Reports on the Ground-Breaking Educational Tool
Byline: KAREN DENT
SIGN language dates back centuries, but it's fair to say that one company has done more than most to bring it into the 21st Century.
ITV SignPost has been producing British Sign Language translated television programming for commercial broadcasters including ITV since 2000. And now it is making its presence felt on both sides of the Atlantic.
The North East firm's latest innovation, the Signed Stories app, uses sign language, subtitles, narration, animation and music to make books easier to read for deaf children, and those with special educational needs.
The brainchild of the team at ITV's Signed Stories, based at the Tyne Tees studios in Gateshead, the app is a world first to feature storytelling in both British and American Sign Language, which are very different.
It uses sign language and animation to tell the stories and the signing part can also be turned off by hearing children who want to use the app. The app is an extension of the Signed Stories website and corresponding CITV show, which shares some of the best modern children's stories via animation and sign language.
Malcolm Wright, managing director of production house ITV SignPost, explained: "We launched Signed Stories website five years ago to encourage deaf children to read more books as their English literacy was not good. Then we started the CITV series.
"But it wasn't just deaf children and it wasn't just British children; we started getting a lot of emails through the website from the US asking if we could do more in American Sign Language (ASL) as it is very different.
"We thought it would be good to have a mobile app, rather than just have it hard-wired into a computer."
Wright, who was instrumental in setting up the now defunct North East technology sector organisation Codeworks, says the app is the first of its kind in the world.
"There was no children's story app which has both British and American sign language, and other additional features for children with dyslexia," he said.
"The American, Canadian and British apps launched at the same time. We've had absolutely fantastic feedback from the US in the first 24 hours, saying, 'Thank you, thank you'. It's clear there is a real demand for it."
The idea was initially mooted towards the end of last year and has been developed using North East technological expertise and US sign language story telling talent.
"We've been building it since about May time with Komodo Digital, based in central Newcastle," said Wright.
"Because we are North East-based we are keen to work with North East talent as the digital talent up here is excellent.
"And we flew in the two best ASL storytellers from America, Keith Wann and Peter Cook, for a week and it fitted in perfectly.
"They are both very well-known in the US and they are able to act as ambassadors for the app out there. …