News : Virtual Sign Language Translator Helping Hearing-impaired
Dubai, UAE, Aug 25, 2015 -- Dubai’s virtual sign language translator has served not only UAE’s hearing-impaired but also those outside the country in just two months of operation. And this is just the beginning, a senior official said.
The Sanad Relay Centre is a contact centre that provides instant support for people with hearing impairment by translating their sign language to the people they are talking to via a smartphone application.
The Community Development Authority (CDA) launched the smart app in June which is available for iPhones and Android devices.
"We are happy to see that some of the calls are not even from the UAE but from different countries," Khalid Al Kamda, CDA Director-General, told Gulf News.
"This shows you that this is not just a local solution but it can be a global solution. It is something that we need to think of as an application for all and not only for Dubai and the UAE," he added.
The international calls came from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Jordan, and Germany, Mahra Abdullah, an Emirati sign language specialist at the centre, said.
"One of them said that they would be holidaying in the UAE and asked us to manage the hotels for them. Some of them just wanted to try the service. Also, some students asked us to translate the exams for them," Mahra, 24, said.
Mahra said the common service required is handling paperwork. Say a person with hearing impairment needs his paperwork done in Dubai Court, Sanad Relay Centre acts as his voice as they relay his message to the government employee at the counter who doesn’t know sign language.
Besides paperwork, the centre is also helpful in acquiring even basic everyday services such as getting medical help or calling for towing services. If before they had to have somebody tag along them to relay their message to other people, the centre now does that through the smart app.
The relay can last for about 10 minutes. All cases the centre handles are resolved before hanging up.
"It’s important to cater to the hearing-impaired because they are like any other, they need services just like us but the problem is it’s difficult because [of the language barrier]. We will help them become more confident to ask about solutions or for help, which is their right anyway," Mahra said.
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Currently, there are around 3,000 people with hearing impairment in the UAE. Some of them helped CDA test the smart app for a year before CDA launched it in June.
Al Kamda said CDA is working on taking the app to another level in the future by having a database of sign language experts who can help the centre anytime, anywhere. Currently, the centre has three sign language specialists in Arabic who work full-time and one trainee.
Al Kamda said more experts are needed in different languages. He encouraged sign language experts in the UAE to volunteer their services at the centre as a way of giving back to the community.
"The ultimate aim for us in this relay is to expand it. This is a 1,000-mile journey and I think by the end we should have a global system. For us this is not a call centre. This is for people who want and need our help."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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