Signly @ The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre
Objective To provide equal access to the attraction, exhibits and experience for deaf sign language users and their families and groups, as currently enjoyed by hearing people We sought to develop a bespoke software app that would engage British Sign Language (BSL) visitors, helping to bring information to life. The aim was to provide equal access to information and activities, and the equivalent choice and independence that other visitors enjoy. Signly inserts a smart layer of signed (or spoken/filmed) digital information onto the screen of a deaf visitor's own mobile device to animate, translate and invigorate their experience by revealing information about each exhibit in a museum for instance. This would offer a pilot and showcase for a unique and innovative use of technology to improve accessibility. We wanted to enable British Sign Language users to enjoy the venue without having to make their ‘special needs’ known.
Signly @ The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre
Sign language is the preferred language for many deaf people, and the Signly app at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, delivers smart signed content directly to the user’s device. Open the app and point at a Signly SIgnpost to play the relevant video. Signed content appears as if the visitor had brought their own interpreter along in their pocket. For example, aim Signly at the Signly label positioned near Roald Dahl’s writing chair to get signed content about the exacting daily routine he followed to create his famous tales.
Signly partnership The Signly partnership was conceived by Mark Applin, founder of Intermedia Solutions a digital communication tools company and Deafax, the number one charity for specialist visual and interactive deaf-friendly training and resources. The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre (RDMSC) RDMSC is situated in Great Missenden, the village where the author lived and wrote for 36 years, RDMSC is aimed at 6-12 year olds and their families. Its charitable purpose is to help all its audiences understand how the work of Roald Dahl can be a key to unlock the stories we all have inside us. The Museum features three interactive galleries exploring his life and work, with the Story Centre gallery and a lively workshop and schools programme encouraging visitors young and old to get creative themselves. Through meeting a colleague from Deafax at one of its own events, RDMSC became a host venue and part-funder of the Signly project. The Project Key objective: to provide equal access to the attraction, exhibits and experience for deaf sign language users and their families and groups, as currently enjoyed by hearing people. We believe the Signly app is unique – a world first and the Roald Dahl Museum is the first place in the world to implement the service. Signly uses augmented reality (AR) to display British Sign Language videos triggered by a smartphone camera looking at special codes or by an image (e.g. work of art, poster, page of a book etc.), or an actual 3D object or artefact. The app is Android and Apple compatible and free to download. Exploring a museum collection is a very visual experience, yet deaf audiences are one of the most neglected by museums (2012 Museum Practice report by the Museums Association). The inadequate provision of British Sign Language (BSL) tours, digital guides and subtitles create barriers for deaf and hard-of-hearing museum visitors. Poor deaf awareness by museum personnel, bad lighting, confusing labels, lack of plain English, and over-reliance on audio information all exacerbate this difficulty. It is these barriers Signly seeks to overcome, enabling not only access but complete independence for deaf visitors. The UK deaf and hard-of-hearing community numbers more than 900,000 people in the UK. includes over 45,000 children. Deafness impedes learning and communication in a hearing-oriented world from an early age, limiting access to information and knowledge. 95% of deaf people are born into hearing families, yet only 17% of these families learn BSL. Deaf siblings frequently report feelings of isolation within the family, shared trips and experiences are limited. The Signly app enables entire families to enjoy shared visits to museums. Around 85% of deaf students are taught in mainstream schools. Signly enables mixed groups of deaf and hearing students to visit a host venue as a class – encouraging and facilitating integration on all levels. User Involvement Deafax and Intermedia enrolled both their deaf and hearing employees as testers with early releases. A mixed group of families was invited to RDMSC on Monday 18th May 2015 to see and use the Signly app for the first time. The group included deaf and hearing adults (parents), and deaf and hearing children (aged 2-10). Each group provided written feedback on the app. The next stage of user testing was with a deaf school class. Users said the technology had the potential to ‘add a new dimension to our lives’ (Deaf parent of deaf and hearing children). Other feedback has included ‘Good idea. They are helping deaf to understand.’ (Deaf child, aged 8). ‘Fantastic – I had no idea of either the problem, or this new solution’ (Retail manager). ‘What a brilliant, long overdue app’ (Teacher). ‘Amazing work – such a great idea and such a great impact.’ (Government Consultant). Please see feedback from users gathered at an open day convened by Deaf Opinions https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ODABMBQuGA The future The initial prototype was funded by the in-kind donation of staff time from all Intermedia and Deafax, a cash contribution of several thousand pounds from the Roald Dahl Museum, and a small budget from Deafax’s unrestricted reserves. Working with RDMSC ensured Signly could develop with clear thought towards its wider application and longer term sustainability across the cultural and public venue sector. The credibility of a significant museum attraction – which has its own access challenges as a relatively small site in a set of period buildings – has made Signly a showcase for its flexibility in other locations. Subsequently the platform has been optimised and a new version of Signly deployed in 2017 at RDMSC. It has been an integral part of the Museum’s ‘Louder than Words’ charter mark accreditation in the past two years https://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/louderthanwords.aspx. Adoption by notable clients such as Network Rail, alongside test installations for Lloyds and Arriva Rail further help ensure the long-term viability of Signly.