Social sign language dictionary gives deaf students new opportunities

Troels Madsen has created Wign, an online sign language dictionary where deaf people can share and search for signs. This is especially useful in higher education, where many technical terms do not have an official sign.

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Ubiquitous computing, co-design, didactics and data. As a deaf student of Digital Media and Design, Troels Madsen often encounters technical and academic terms with no offical signs. Instead, his interpreter has to spell out the words or use self-invented signs. This inspired Troels to develop Wign (pronounced ‘wine’), a social sign bank where deaf people and interpreters can share and seek translations of words that are not widely used.

“When a technical term is introduced in a class, there isn’t always a Danish sign for it, which means you have to invent your own. But when other deaf people out there have taken similar classes, there's really no need to reinvent the wheel. When you meet other deaf people with the same education, you don’t necessarily use the same signs, so a social dictionary would also make it easier for deaf people to talk about their professions,” says Troels.

Many signs for avocado

The dictionary is not limited to academic terms, however. Many proper names and recent phenomena also lack official signs. Currently, Wign contains about 400 signs, including ‘Instagram’, ‘ginger’ and ‘avocado’.

"For instance, people use all sorts of different signs for 'avocado'. On Wign, you will be able to see all the variations and people can rate the signs and indicate which one they use. That way, you will gradually be able see which sign is the most prevalent, and perhaps come to some level of standardization."

Users have to contribute

Wign builds on an idea developed by deaf students and an interpreting company back in 2010, but Troels has developed and coded the website himself. In his study programme, he has acquired the necessary usability and project management skills.

After going live on April 1, Wign had around 2,500 users in its first month, and users are continually adding new signs. The dictionary’s success is highly largely dependent on an active user base, so in his bachelor’s project, Troels is examining how to best motivate deaf people and sign language interpreters to add new content to the site.

Business plans on the drawing board

With time, Troels hopes to attract the attention of investors who can contribute to the further development of Wign.

"The project is still in its infancy, but I am looking at ways of financing Wign, so we can make it really good and inviting. I have different business models on the drawing board. I could also imagine expanding the concept to other countries."

Further information

Vibeke Arildsen, Press Officer, phone 2555 0447, email viar@itu.dk