Family / AR technology

Using augmented reality to encourage families to use sign language

By lowie trevena, Thursday Jul 4, 2019

The Pervasive Media Studio is a melting pot of innovative ideas and world-changing creations.

One of the newest technologies to come from the creatives there is Where Is The Bird?, an augmented reality storybook that inspires families to learn British Sign Language (BSL) in their home.

Victoria Forrest, director of VIKA Books and founder of the project, met to discuss how augmented reality can show both the hearing and deaf community simple BSL which young children can use to communicate.

The book can be clipped onto pushchairs for young children

“I’ve always known about baby sign language,” says Victoria. “I could see that it was an underused option for children before they could speak.

“I learnt baby sign language with my son so he could communicate but it was so difficult to access the words we needed at home. We ended up using American Sign Language.”

Where Is The Bird? is a buggy book with an accompanying free app called BabyBSL. The book and the app can be used independently but when using the two together, the unique augmented reality element of the technology can really flourish.

The book, illustrated by local artist Jasmine Thompson, has 20 simple illustrations, such as swings, a ball and, of course, a bird. When the BabyBSL app is hovered over an illustration, it comes to life.

This in turn increases the child’s interest in the book and helps them learn BSL by creating a stronger connection between the signs and the augmented reality book.

When used with the app, Jasmine Thompson’s illustrations come to life

“It’s flexible, portable and fun,” explains Victoria. “It’s not just giving a child an app to entertain them, it’s co-learning with parents and interacting with the world. Designed to be simple to make it more accessible.”

The app is not a one-trick pony, however. It also plays short videos of children signing Jasmine Thompson’s illustrations.

“It was vital that the deaf community worked with us on the project. Lynn Stewart-Taylor from See Hear and Elmfield School for Deaf Children are demonstrating the signs, and we consulted with the Deaf Studies Trust.

“The videos in the app were filmed by VS1 Productions, a Bristol-based company specialising in deaf productions. All aspects of BSL representation in the app were done or advised by members of the deaf community.”

Having received funding from Innovate UK and South West Creative Technology Network in summer 2018, work began on the project in the following October. With a background in book design, Victoria saw the opportunity to use her skills to teaching young children BSL nationwide and help parents to communicate with their infants, whether hearing or deaf.

Parents and children are encouraged to you the technology together. Photo by Jo Hounsome

The project has a soft launch in the Watershed on July 12 from 12.30pm to 4.30pm with free activity packs and colouring books, and free buggy books for the first 20 people as well.

The book is also available to pre-order on Waterstones and all the project can be seen in the Watershed cafe until August 4.

“Our ambition is to publish more augmented reality books,” says Victoria. “With Where Is The Bird? we just want to open the door and bring the deaf and hearing communities together.”

The soft launch for Where Is The Bird? takes place on Friday, July 12 at 12.30pm at the Watershed. To find out more and for details go to www.babybsl.com

Main photo by Joana Franca.

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