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Friday, December 3, 2021

Teenage girl develops sign language translation app for movies

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The 17-year-old built the app during lockdown to help deaf children enjoy movies

While the pandemic kept most of us locked away, some took it as an opportunity to learn a new skill. 17-year-old Mariella Satow used her extra free time to learn American Sign Language (ASL) after her GCSE exams were cancelled.

She spent a year studying ASL, which she fell in love with as it “combines words and physicality”.

Mariella noticed that there were no sign language translations for movies, so she took that as her next challenge. She partnered with software engineer Rahul Bhisra at Softpulse Infotech to develop an ASL translations app for movies using money from dog walking.

The app, called SignUp, is a free Google Chrome extension that overlays ASL on top of movies. The sign language translations are automatically synced up to align with the movie’s playback.

Disney+ films, including Moana, Frozen and The Incredibles, were among the first to be translated. The list now grew to include six movies, with Mariella receiving hundreds of requests for more movies.

With thousands of users on the app, Mariella said she “can’t believe how big it’s become”. She received thankful messages from parents, many of whom’s children haven’t been able to enjoy a movie yet.

“We watched ‘Moana’ Thursday night, with the SignUp interpreter on. My six year old daughter’s face was priceless. She LOVED it. She’s not reading yet, so captions don’t mean anything. It was the first time she’s had full access to a movie. Thank you, thank you!” — Karli H.

SignUp’s website quotes a study that found 80% of children using sign language also struggled with reading.

In essence, this makes subtitles inaccessible to the vast majority of children with hearing difficulties. Mariella says she wants to bring the joy of watching movies to children with hearing difficulties, noting that is the primary motivation behind her app.

For now, Mariella has shared a GoFundMe page to help her raise more funds for the business.

This money will be used to support more streaming platforms such as Netflix, help her advertise on social media, and pay interpreters to translate more movies. 


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