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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 1 (2011 Deadline)

Assistive technology for improving literacy among the deaf and hard of hearing    

PI: Abdelhadi Soudi, Ecole National de l'Industrie Minerale
US Partner: Corinne Vinopol, Institute for Disabilities Research and Training, Inc.
Project Dates: June 2012 - February 2014

Project Overview

Moroccan Sign Language (MSL) is a poorly resourced language with communication problems compounded by a severe lack of interpreters. It is also worth noting that Sign Language research in developing countries (including Morocco) is still in its infancy, so standardization of communication tools has rarely been attempted. The high rate of illiteracy among the deaf community and the lack of sign language interpreters often deprives members of this community of critical information, with serious consequences to their welfare, safety, health, opportunities, and rights.
  Morocco Partnership Photo A
Dr. Soudi with sign language interpreter.
  Morocco Partnership Photo B
Dr. Soudi and his team.
  Morocco Partnership Photo C
The U.S. partner, Dr. Vinopol, during her visit to Dr. Soudi’s lab in Morocco.

This project will be carried out in collaboration with the U.S.-based Institute for Disabilities Research and Training, Inc., which is currently developing a translation engine that provides reciprocal translation between American Sign Language (ASL) and English. The project is aimed at creating a robust assistive technology that would be of accessible cost for deaf individuals in Morocco and their families, service providers, educators, or businesses that employ them or have them as customers. The technology should be able to function as both an instructional tool to improve the literacy of deaf children and adults and as a real-time translation device between MSL and standard written Arabic. This translation technology will accommodate a variety of input and output options, including input for standard Arabic text (typing, scanning, screen text transfer); input for MSL (a sensor-enabled glove capable of reading the finger and hand movements of sign language and camera integration); output for standard Moroccan text (standard Arabic text); and output for MSL (sign graphics, sign video clips). By collaborating on this PEER-supported project, the researchers hope to determine whether the gesture capture technology currently under development for ASL is applicable to MSL and whether the English-to-ASL/ASL-to-English translation engine and hardware currently under development are relevant for Standard Arabic-to-MSL/MSL-to-Standard Arabic. The results obtained should benefit both sides in their efforts to use technologies to assist marginalized disabled communities in both Morocco and the United States.
Summary of Recent Activities
During the last quarter of 2013 the research team continued lexical database extension. One thousand additional video clips and one thousand graphics signs have been identified and created for both text and dictionary support. The graphic files and video clips have been coded and added to the program. This task involved drawing sign graphics for text support and on for the dictionary; coding files according to the database; adding graphic files to the program; videotaping, editing, compressing sign film clips; coding video clips according to the database; and adding video clips to the program.  On October 24, 2013, the research team organized an information day on Assistive Technologies for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Some 350 deaf citizens and representatives of 20 deaf associations took part in this event. The Minister of Solidarity, Family, Women and Social Development (Ms. Bassima Haqqaoui), the USAID mission director, and many other policy makers attended this event and expressed their support for the technology. The dissemination of project research results and outreach to the community continued as well.

In other outreach-related developments, the PI Dr. Abdelhadi Soudi presented a poster on the PEER project at the Qatar Annual Research Conference in November 2013, winning first prize in the Computing and IT session. He also made a presentation on “Virtual Reality Technologies for Deaf Education” at the international conference “Building International Networks for Enhancement of Research in Jordan,” which was held in Amman, Jordan, April 3-5, 2014. This conference provided another opportunity to introduce the PEER project within the region. A field trip to two additional deaf associations for both dissemination and data validation is being planned as well. Research and creation of signing avatars that produce linguistically accurate animations is ongoing.