Opening the Digital World to
Sign Language Communication
It’s easy for those who can hear and speak to talk to a GPS system
or record audio notes on their tablets. “For those who primarily
communicate through sign language, these innovations are not
available,” says Ronnie Wilbur, professor in the linguistics program,
College of Liberal Arts, and speech, language and hearing sciences,
College of Health and Human Sciences.
Technology, particularly automating tasks for sign-based dictation,
is a high priority in her lab, the only Midwest sign language research
center. Grants from the National Institutes of Health and National
Science Foundation have furthered Wilbur’s investigations into
syllable structure, grammatical facial expression and word order and
how to use those sign language components in digital innovations.
She earlier co-developed MathSigner, a PC-based tool using 3-D
animated signers to teach students and parents sign language
for K- 4 mathematical concepts. She’s also collaborating on an
NIH project using computational techniques to perform automatic
signed facial grammar recognition.
“We are focusing on investigating aspects of speech that remain
unknown for sign languages,” Wilbur says. “They include how signs
are perceived by viewers and how they are produced by signers —
both comparable to speech recognition — and the grammar that
mediates between perception and production so messages are
understood.” | K.M.
What the Brain Can Tell Us
Clutching a toy polar bear, a 4-year-old wearing an elastic electrode
cap watches an adapted clip from Pingu the Penguin as his brain
waves (EEG) are being recorded.
While he’s concentrating on the video, Christine Weber-Fox, Anne
Smith and their graduate students wonder what his brain activity
may tell them about stuttering in young children. With a new
$3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, they’re
searching for physiological signatures that could indicate which
children are at greatest risk for developing a chronic stuttering
problem. Their goal: to develop a screening tool so that speech
therapists can better identify which preschoolers are not likely to
recover and need therapy immediately.
Anne Smith | Christine Weber-Fox