Huawei uses the power of AI to help deaf children and their parents learn and enjoy reading together

SYDNEY, 17 December 2018 – Huawei Australia has today announced the launch of StorySign, an AI-powered app that helps enrich story time for deaf and hard of hearing children and their parents. This follows the global announcement earlier this month. There are approximately 32 million deaf children globally and around 250 – 400 deaf children are born in Australia each year*. Many struggle to learn to read, often due to a lack of options that help bridge sign language learning and reading. StorySign uses the power of Huawei’s AI (Artificial Intelligence) to create an authentic reading experience, helping to open the world of books to deaf children and their families.

Pioneered by Huawei and available in Australia from February 2019, StorySign will feature the popular children’s book, Where’s Spot at launch. With the help of StorySign’s friendly avatar Star and using the power of Huawei AI, the app translates the featured book into perfect sign language page by page delivering a seamless, happy and rewarding experience.

“At Huawei, we believe in the power of AI and that technology can make a positive difference in the world” comments Lisa Connors, Huawei Australia Corporate Responsibility Manager. “We created StorySign to help make it possible for families with deaf children to enjoy the truly magical moments of story time.”
Created with experts and charities from the deaf community, StorySign was developed to ensure its use as a genuinely useful tool for families with deaf and hearing-impaired children.”

Huawei Australia has entered a partnership with local charity organisation, Deaf Australia, to encourage support and donation for those affected. Through this partnership, Huawei will offer the StorySign app to the Australian deaf community and aim to raise awareness of deaf literacy more broadly.

“Deaf children don’t learn to read in the same way as hearing children. Many struggle to learn how to read because they can’t match words with sounds. The deaf community is in need of accessible content to address children’s literacy development needs and digital tools like StorySign is addressing this necessity. For this reason, we are privileged to be working with Huawei on the StorySign project and how, through the use of AI and innovative technology, it could enrich the lives of Australian deaf children and their families in a meaningful way.” comments Kyle Miers, CEO of Deaf Australia.

“We’re very hopeful that it will make a significant impact in the deaf community, helping more deaf children learn how to read at the same level as hearing children. We also hope the launch of StorySign will support a wider conversation about ensuring equality in every aspect of their lives for deaf people.” says Mark Wheatley, Executive Director, European Union of the Deaf.

Sign has no written form as there is no direct English word-for-word translation, which poses a huge challenge to deaf children when learning to read. Huawei’s StorySign app, in conjunction with a compatible smartphone and physical book, delivers a magical story time experience for both parent and child.

Created with experts and charities from the deaf community across Europe and in Australia, StorySign uses Huawei AI featuring powerful Image Recognition and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to provide greater accuracy even when the child or parent positions the phone at an angle from the book. The AI further optimises the speed at which pages from the book loads in the app meaning that children won’t be left waiting too long to find out what happens next in the story.

StorySign launches in Australia with a film by Academy Award® winning director Chris Overton and starring seven-year-old actress Maisie Sly, both of whom worked on Oscar®-winning short film The Silent Child. The StorySign film sees a young girl struggling to read with her father on Christmas Eve. Later that night when she sneaks downstairs to peak at her presents, she is stunned to see Santa who hands her a book for a gift. Upon realising that the little girl is deaf, Santa begins to sign the book to her and in that moment, she is the happiest little girl in the world, as he helps her enjoy the magic of story time.
Partners involved in the app development include Deaf Australia, the European Union of the Deaf and its local charities across Western Europe, publishing partner Penguin and the acclaimed animation specialists of Wallace & Grommit fame, Aardman.

“When creating Star, the character for StorySign, we first had to immerse ourselves in the world of sign language,” comments Neil Pymer, Interactive Creative Director, Aardman. “The complexity we found is overwhelming, so we needed to make sure that we created a character that not only resonated with the audience but also fulfilled its main job of teaching children to read. For example, we learned that facial expressions play a critical role in sign language, so we created a character to embody that expressivity. At the same time, Star was designed to seem like an older sibling, somebody who will guide you through the book. Seeing the reactions of children when realising that Star signs the words in the book is something very special indeed.”

StorySign can be downloaded for free from Google Play Store and the Huawei AppGallery in 10 markets across Western Europe. It will be made available in Australia from February 2019 with compatibility with Auslan.

To watch the film and learn how you can help, visit Donations can be made via the StorySign campaign hub on the Huawei website. All money raised will support deaf child literacy projects across Europe and in Australia, including more books for StorySign.