Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
The deaf community in Japan does not experience full citizenship globally and has historically been marginalized. For 30 years, the Japanese government has endorsed lip reading over sign language for the deaf community. Now the government is playing ‘catch up’ in order to quickly solidify the language. This has resulted in the haphazard and inefficient formalization of sign language. In recent history, the Japanese government paid over 10 million dollars to identify 100 standardized signs.
While 50.2% of students in Japan go on to university, only 16% of the deaf community does. In 2008, deaf people still could not obtain a driver’s license, become a pilot, a pharmacist, or many other professions. In Congress, only one person is deaf compared to 14 blind politicians in the Japanese Congress, or Diet. Additionally, the deaf community is more vulnerable from a health perspective without regular access to health care information and emergency services.
All of these issues tie into the lack of ownership of sign language by the deaf community. There are 126 different sign languages in the world without a mechanism to translate between them as there is no sign language-written language dictionary. This means deaf people who use Sign Language as their mother tongue have a difficult time learning the written language.
With this dictionary, deaf people can search for a word that they don't know in written language by Sign Language. It can help deaf people to better learn written language. This is further complicated by the fact that in one country there may be several signs for one word (in Japan there are 20 different signs for the word “egg”). Furthermore, if an individual is born deaf, their ability to form sentences varies quite largely from those that develop deafness at some point later in their life.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Junto Ohki is the co-founder and president of ShuR Group, the company behind a technology that combines aspects of social media and social enterprise to create the first sign language dictionary in the world, called SLinto, a Wikipedia for signs. He is starting with 101 words but aspires to eventually include126 languages in the dictionary. Junto has developed a keyboard which has simplified how to look up a word or sign while making it possible to directly translate from one language’s sign to another. He has developed an online website which can capture the world’s 126 sign languages while providing links between the languages that never existed before.
This idea is systems-changing in the way that it facilitates the evolution of sign language while at the same time incorporating the deaf community it seeks to benefit as part of the decision-making process. Junto has created a crowd sourcing platform where deaf users can vote on the usage of certain words and based on the response; create a user-generated dictionary that standardizes Japanese sign language. This not only involves the deaf community and grants them direct responsibility in normalizing the language, it doubles as a data mining tool that allows interested parties to better understand the words that are commonly used by deaf people, specifically technical terms such as health, mechanical, or other specialized vernacular.
Junto not only wants to standardize Japanese sign language through his technology, but he hopes to provide efficient access to services and information that enable the deaf community as full participants in society. He is addressing the issue of access by providing new forms of entertainment, travel documentaries, emergency web-based translation services, and social services.