Adventure Junkie Shares “Signly” – an Accessibility App for the Deaf

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Trish: Hey there listeners! Welcome to access talk with Trish. A 30-minute weekly online radio segment dedicated to examining the good the bad and the reality of accessibility in our communities and I'm your host for the show Trish Robichaud. Disability inclusion coach, author, facilitator and motivational speaker. I'm a woman with a disability but I'm definitely not a disabled woman. The access talk with Trish radio show can be heard live on Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. Eastern at access talk with or you can listen to past show recordings on demand at any time at the same address or on iTunes if that's how you roll. The show is brought to you by changing paces. An accessibility consulting firm that simplifies disability legislation for organizations that think they don't have the time or money for compliance. Visit and nurture a culture of inclusion where everyone matters. On that note I'd like to introduce you to my guest for this week. My guest is Tim Scannell of Warwickshire England. Tim is the special media ambassador for an award-winning accessibility app called sign as if by magic. signly displays pre-recorded sign language videos on a user's cell phone enabling better access to written content for deaf or hard-of-hearing sign language users. Tim himself was born profoundly deaf because of his mother contracting German measles during her pregnancy. He's passionate about building his business blog and developed for people who are deaf and or hard of hearing. Researching and learning about new technologies that aid communication, all things football including on and off as a football scout and seeing deaf people being treated with equality particularly in the workplace. Since the age of 14 Tim has enjoyed visiting their countries. After graduating from University he continued to travel. He has a few stories to tell including saving a drowning girl in California and escaping the clutches of a kidnapper between Israel and Jordan. 2:20 inaudible includes demonstrating the app to various clients and companies keeping up to date with social inclusion and accessibility issues which include attending the European Union's social innovators competition that's impressive and promoting the app via social media and presenting at various conferences and events. Tim is clearly passionate about seeing signly used to improve the lives of people who are deaf and or hard of hearing. His hobbies include skydiving, playing some sports and networking with other people. Welcome Tim thanks for joining me.

Tim: Hi there Trish. Hi yeah thank you very very much for having me here today. So I completely agree with everything you've said thank you so much and for having me on your show. And so just let's to let the listeners know that I do have a female voice today because I'm using a sign language interpreter and she's a female interpreter so just to let you know.

Trish: Thank you thank you for clarifying that. I was just going to say let me first start by explaining the Tim is deaf and he's using an interpreter to participate in the interview and I want to say gratitude for assistive technology and supports. So Tim I was looking over the signly infographic that you provided me and I noticed a couple of things that I wanted you to cover for our listeners. The piece that struck me the hardest was that a deaf child and I quote here "a deaf child age 4 will know only 25 words by that point compared to 700 for a hearing child" could you speak to that point and as well as other profound impacts that that areas to information in communications have on people who are hard of hearing or deaf.

Tim: Yeah yeah definitely I can explain that more and for you. So that some of the barriers for deaf children one of them is things like not having funding for specialist support like teachers of the deaf, people not understanding the communication and access barriers that deaf children specifically need and so things like putting a deaf child in a class a classroom with 30 children who can all hear and being the only deaf child and without a teaching assistant or without any additional support creates a whole heap of barriers and the deaf children not having access to sign language. So, 90% of deaf children are born so I think it's 95 percent of deaf children actually born to hearing parents who don't sign and so and you've got other things so things like sign language not being recognized in some countries. So, in Canada for instance sign language is not recognized as a language. So that causes barriers again and then it's not used to be able to provide language acquisition for young deaf children.

Trish: So the long term impact of these limitations in childhood they've got to have a profound impact on deaf person's ability to communicate.

Tim: Yeah absolutely it does Trish. I mean for me it's a really really disappointing thing I've seen it my entire life and it's goes right to the top. The things that you don't have even the top experts that the government don't have the skills or even recognizes difficult is that are there, the education system doesn't have the skills or recognition of the difficulties that are there and so a deaf child is basically left without the ability to communicate, the ability to learn, they're left frustrated a lot of them are left with mental health issues due to this inability to be able to communicate. I mean I think the first experience working with an interpreter for a deaf child is absolutely amazing for them but most schools won't actually provide one. So yeah things like in the in the UK and in Canada there's probably about three hundred and seventy thousand deaf people and we probably say I'm from the whole population it works out roughly about one in ten. Boys in the UK it's probably about what about about one in six and people and they do there's a massive massive community of people who are negatively impacted because of failure to provide the proper support with regards to communication.

Trish: And I can't help but thinking not only does this have a negative impact on the child's ability to communicate I can't help but that that leads to low self-esteem, it's going to lead to lack of socialization, huge.

Tim: Absolutely absolutely Trish. So things like that not even just my own personal experience but none of my family signs so every time we have a family gathering I'm unable to communicate with my own family. I mean I've had to work really really hard in things like education when going through school and university to make myself understood and to be understood by others. I mean I'm perfectly capable of doing all the things the same things as everybody else but the only thing I can't do is here and facing other people's attitude towards my disability as well that just mean it does caused me so many problems. I mean I'm absolutely delighted at the use of BSL interpreters in Britain and so that has opened up a lot better ways for me to communicate in lots and lots of different environments. And they sign the app that we use now. Honestly, it's literally it's like magic Trish. It uses augmented reality to put overlay a pre-recorded sign language video on to text. So yes it means that deaf children who are not able to access either spoken or written English have a way of actually accessing literature. It's amazing. But things like that so there are some real gaps and things like no medical information and education and learning there's very other than using in services there's very little technology used in those arenas and that would support deaf people to get full access and that's really where things like signly come in too. So yeah so things like being able to but deaf people don't necessarily have the ability to translate between English and British sign language and signly is the perfect way to allow deaf person to have complete full access to the information in a quick and easy way.

Trish: So I take it signly is going to break down some of those barriers that we mentioned earlier please tell us more tell us all about this award-winning application Tim.

Tim: Right of course of course I'm more than happy to tell you about signly. So it has won two awards. It has won a Mattias Award and a Jodi Award. And so the first application we did was for the Roald Dahl Museum in London. So we did an application to support the museum tours and so and we actually won an award for that we did there. The museum were obviously delighted and the next one we are going to be soon doing is yeah the next one we're going to be doing is we're going to be where it's actually in the finalists for an innovation competition from the European Commission and so really they're looking at applications and technology which have a major social impact and so we're in the in the top ten shortlist at the moment and so we're waiting to find out about that as well so that'll be a third award to add to our list so yeah it's been an amazing journey.

Trish: Fabulous so let's walk our listeners through how signly works.

Tim: Okay so if you go to our website which is you can see all the information there and you can download the app which is on Android and iOS. So yeah you can download it on either of those two platforms. Now what happens is the obviously the companies and organizations that we work with they will actually have printed information by way of posters or leaflets and basically once you've downloaded our app and you hold it over this physical piece of paper or the digital version of the piece of paper so whether it's on the website and the pre-recorded interpreter will then like magic come up onto your mobile device and provide a translation of the written literature that's there.

Trish: I wish we could show that to you. Yeah Tim is showing me as he's explaining showing me how the application works. I actually downloaded it myself yesterday and tried it on the on the one page that you sent to me and I was just I was staggered with how simple it is and how profoundly effective it is. Of course I don't need the sign language interpreter but I can tell you the text was too small to read without a magnification for me so signly read the document out loud to me and that was amazing.

Tim: Yeah exactly so it has the multi use there true. So we do it with audio and with the with the sign language interpreter as well. So I mean it could be translated into any sign language so whichever country it's being used in. It can be translated into the sign language for that specific country. Really our aim is to use it for educational purposes for children to access literature, for museum tours and educational things and for us it's really really important. And also to allow deaf children to engage with hearing members of their family so the family can do things I read stories together learn together access entertainments together. I think the last thing as well I mean if you can you can use this on something as small as a credit card and have it mean all that information and in something as small as a credit card and still be able to have the sign language translations on it so yes something I use myself it's brilliant it's absolutely and worthwhile a vital piece of technology.

Trish: So as the user it's free to me.

Tim: Yes yes that's right that's right yes so it's free to the end-user so yes it's free to the end user.

Trish: But the host the organisation that has the literature that I want to read I take it they subscribe to signly?

Tim: Yeah Yeah that's right that's right yeah so what they actually do is they actually purchase a license from us and to be able to use the signly the app and then store their data on our platform.

Trish: I see I see okay we're going to head out to a break right now very quickly and when we come back I'm gonna I'm going to ask you to talk more about this the one award that you won for the for the museum. I want to hear about your experience at the museum with signly we'll be right back.

Trish: Okay we're back. Tim I'm wondering. I know that I read that you personally experienced the signly app at this museum that you were referring to tell me about that.

Tim: Right yeah yeah yeah yeah so so yes in the museum it was the Roald Dahl Museum in London. I put my previous experience it's been awful because all of the guided tours are all in audio and so you've visited all of the different exhibitions and I mean and I'm not really able to understand any of the background information or they'll give you a big booklets or lots of Indian information to read and it's all in in written English and it's just there's a real miscommunication for me and being able to understand what the exhibits are what they stand for and who's made them etc. And actually once we've gone to the Roald Dahl museum and I downloaded the signly app. I downloaded it once, I didn't need to have my internet connected or anything said to access the the tour. Since I go in through the main door and they've got little prints there and I helped my phone over the print and it gave me a welcome message in sign language. So it was like it told me the opening time the closing times how much it costs to get in there so it didn't really have to have any kind of awkward communications with the ticket officer that was there it told me about what exhibits were in the museum and it was like so everything was provided to me through my own mobile device. So I went into the first room and it gave you the first Roald Dahl's story and there was a history about Roald Dahl himself and for every little exhibit that was there I was able to hold my phone over the little bit of information on the prints and have it all in sign language videos for me it was absolutely amazing. So I think each of the videos were probably only two to three minutes each but for me it was really emotional because for the first time I've been able to come to a museum I didn't have to bring someone to communicate for me I didn't have to bring a hearing friend or family member who could explain it for me it didn't felt like I had a carer I could go by myself, I could get all this rich information I didn't have all the stress and worry about trying to communicate with people and everything was basically everything I needed was in my pocket in my mobile device. I was absolutely delighted. So that's the reason why it has one there the two awards for that particular piece of work it was absolutely amazing Trish.

Trish: I am so grateful that you share that story with me Tim. I so loved that it was an emotional experience for you.

Tim: Bearing in mind i'm 38 Trish and that was the first time that I've been able to have that experience at the age of 38 Trish.

Trish: That's just staggering and I'm thrilled for you i'm thrilled for signly and I'm thrilled for the people who are deaf who are going to get to use signly. Talk about breaking down barriers. It's almost like unlocking a cage really.

Tim: Yeah absolutely absolutely I can't agree more with that statement. For me is I still love going to other places and you mean having people have the same experience for the first time and so it's probably been about six months now since I've been demonstrating signly but I think it mean when people actually see how it works and the feedback that we get from not just deaf children but deaf people particularly is really been outstanding.

Trish: Amazing amazing. Can you summarize your experience with the shortlisted tips for making communications with people who are deaf much more effective and satisfying.

Tim: All right let me have a little think. I think just learning a little bit of basic deaf awareness so yeah things like making sure you're face to face with the person. Be animated. Use your facial expressions, allow your kind of emotions to be showed on your face because that helps us a lot with understanding the context of what you're saying and if technology available use it. You've got online VRS you've got lots and lots of different applications which can support communication between the deaf and a hearing person and so things like using you text on your mobile to communicate simple information. A lot of deaf people don't speak so things like being able to use a text with somebody you know in a face to face situation and can really help so and so things like you don't need to do anything special like speak really slowly because that actually makes it really difficult for any kind of lip-reading and it's a little bit patronizing. So just speak in your usual way at usual pace but if it be at face-to-face communication use as much animation and gesture and facial expressions as you can. I mean I can't go through all the technology because it's so much a bit yeah I mean about half an hour just to explain all of that but just to let you know there are lots and lots of applications and different sorts of technology that can help as well. I mean to be honest with you though the things like speech to text so if the hearing person wants to use a speech to text and allow the deaf person to read the text a mean for me I'm always gonna be a signly man. I love signly with the speech-to-text but like I say for those kind of moments where you've met somebody unexpectedly or you with family around the dinner table speech-to-text things like that can actually help because it's very frustrating for a deaf person to feel left out all the time.

Trish: So is there a device that will hear our speech and convert it to text for you?

Tim: Yeah there are there are there are various various apps that can do it some work better than others. S there is thing's like oovoo chat and there's mobile over as well but they're all mobile applications. None of them are perfect and they have improved over time. So there is one called Dragon speech as well so which you can use with your microphone and it'll bring up the the speech on a computer on a mobile device but I think if you think about from a deaf person from a language point of view like myself, for me English is my second language and things like I've learnt a lot of my English from things like subtitles on the TV and understanding the context. I mean obviously for other people having a very fluent understanding of English we can struggle sometimes even with written language because it is a second language for us. So things like VRI on VRS systems. So it basically this for you can use an interpreter an online interpreter for a deaf and hearing person who are in the same room. So they'll be sharing the device and the interpreter will be working for them that way or you can use a VRS system where the deaf person the interpreter and the hearing person are all in completely different places.

Trish: And VRS stands for what?

Tim: So yeah video relay services VRS. So it allows a deaf person to make phone calls through a remote interpreter to somebody else on the phone.

Trish: This will be a video call so that you can see the interpreter yes?

Tim: Yeah absolutely absolutely. So at the moment it means that think about it means and being having to pay as well so that's another barrier that could obviously happen and you need to have quite a good band with a good internet service a decent camera and things so there are additional costs. I would say the British sign language interpreters deaf people who work can claim a grant from the government's it's called the access to work scheme and so deaf people in work can pay for interpreters by using this grant. I don't know if it's I don't know if you have a similar scheme in in Canada or not but yeah I mean anything that comes to mind I'm more than happy to and to talk to people and just offer any advice it's needed about accessing interpreters.

Trish: Wonderful wonderful. I think it's an amazing technology. It's just too cool for the room frankly. I gotta love it. So if any of our listeners want to find out more about signly or are interested in hosting signly on their websites how can they get a hold of you Tim?

Tim: Yeah they can and they can contact me on my email which is and if it's a deaf person that's contacted me they're welcome to email me and then setup a face time or a Skype call so we can actually sign to each other and just to let people know it may take me a little longer than usual to respond to some emails because I do rely on translation to be able to respond to emails in written English.

Trish: No problem. Thank you so much for being on the show today Tim. I think this is a fabulous piece of technology that the world needs to know about. Thank you for bringing it to us.

Tim: No problem at all Trish. Thank you so so much.

Trish: And thank you to our listeners so much for joining us for today's episode of access talk with Trish. A 30-minute weekly online radio segment dedicated to examining the good the bad and the reality of accessibility in our communities. Please join us again next week on Wednesday at 11:30 Eastern. The show is brought to you by changing paces, an accessibility consulting firm that exemplifies disability legislation for organizations that think they don't have the time or money for compliance. Visit and nurture a culture of inclusion where everyone matters. Til next time folks take self-care seriously and god bless.

Or CLICK HERE to download transcript

My guest today is Tim Scannell, of Warwickshire, England. Tim is the “Social Media Ambassador” for an award-winning accessibility app called “Signly”.

As if by magic, Signly displays pre-recorded sign language videos on a user’s cell phone, enabling better access to written content for deaf or hard of hearing sign language users.

Tim himself was born profoundly deaf because of his mother contracting German measles during her pregnancy.

He’s passionate about:

  • Building his business blog,, developed for people who are d/Deaf or Hard of Hearing,
  • Researching and learning about new technology that aids communication,
  • All things football including working on and off as a football scout, and
  • Seeing deaf people being treated with equality, particularly in the work place.

Since the age of fourteen, Tim has enjoyed visiting other countries.  After graduating from university, he continued to travel; he has a few stories to tell including saving a drowning girl in California and escaping the clutches of a kidnapper between Israel and Jordan!

Tim’s role with Signly includes demonstrating the app to various clients and companies; keeping up to date with social inclusion and accessibility issues – which included attending the European Union Social Innovators Competition; promoting the app via social media and presenting at various conferences and events.

Tim is clearly passionate about seeing Signly used to improve the lives of people who are deaf or hard of hearing.  His hobbies include Sky-diving, playing some sports and networking with people.

Tim Scannell can be reached at or at Please check out Signly at

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