Academics

ASL Champ!, an education program being developed through Gallaudet’s Action & Brain Lab and Motion Light Lab, won the award for best demo at the XR Access Symposium, June 6-7 in New York City. The conference brings together leaders in industry, academia, and advocacy to address accessibility in virtual reality and augmented reality. “It was a great opportunity to get feedback and showcase what we’re doing at Gallaudet,” post-doctoral researcher Dr. Md Shahinur Alam says.

People lined up for the chance to experience ASL Champ!, which teaches users American Sign Language in a virtual reality environment. Instruction comes via an avatar that demonstrates signs and provides feedback, letting users know whether they are replicating a sign correctly or incorrectly. Action & Brain Lab Director Dr. Lorna Quandt says that to really understand this technology, it helps to try it out. “When you put on the headset, you can see it’s immersive, and it responds to your signing,” she says. “It’s more powerful to experience for yourself.”

A woman is seated while wearing a VR headset in a light-filled room. She appesrs to be signing "tea" in American Sign Language. A man in a suit stands next to her.
Dr. Md Shahinur Alam helped XR Access Symposium attendees test out ASL Champ!, which uses virtual reality environments and avatars to teach signs.

About 25 people had the chance to test the program at the conference, and most of them had no sign language experience, which is the target audience for the game. The testers marveled at how realistic the avatar appears, Alam says. He explains that this is because the avatar’s movements are based on advanced motion capture techniques to ensure the signing is as clear as possible. It was encouraging to see such positive reactions. “It feels awesome, and it really helps motivate us,” he says. The team appreciated the praise as well as suggestions for improvement, which they are addressing as they build additional virtual reality environments and increase the number of signs in the program.

During the conference, Quandt also led a breakout session along with Gallaudet Assistant Professor Dr. Abraham Glasser of the Accessible Human-Centered Computing Program on “XR and sign language.” The open group discussion invited attendees to brainstorm about how ASL and other sign languages can fit in these developing technologies. “The best thing about it was seeing the different perspectives people brought to the table,” says Glasser, who notes that participants had various backgrounds and levels of familiarity with deaf and hard of hearing people and sign language. “I was the only Deaf, native signer there.”

There is a lot of potential in this area, Quandt says, and attendees were excited for the future. “They see why it would be important to make this happen,” she says.

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