Smartphone brand, Huawei, uses the power of artificial intelligence to help deaf children and their parents learn to read together.

Huawei, the global technology leader, has announced the launch of StorySign, an app that will help enrich story time for deaf children and their parents. StorySign was created with experts and charities from the deaf community to ensure it is a genuinely useful tool. The app features a friendly avatar, Star, who guides children and parents through a selected children’s book, translating it into perfect sign language and signing along to the story in real time.

There are approximately 32 million deaf children globally, and many struggle to learn to read, often due to a lack of resources bridging sign language and reading. New research from Huawei has indicated that parents of deaf children in Ireland spend more time reading to their children each day than parents of hearing children – an average of 67 minutes compared to 27 minutes – yet statistics indicate that they are falling behind their hearing peers with most deaf 16-year olds having an average reading age of nine years.

Sign has no written form as there is no direct English word-for-word translation, which poses a huge challenge to deaf children learning to read. Alongside lack of resources, many children do not get access to sign language at the crucial early learning stages; 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents[2] and 61% of those parents in Ireland admitted they only know some sign language or don’t know how to sign.

Parents of hearing children believe that reading to their children is a vital part of their development, most positively impacting their imagination (78%), knowledge (71%) and communication skills (62%), while 57% of these parents state that reading stories together relaxes their child, helping to achieve lower stress levels.

Reading together is also important for bonding; 76% of parents say reading together with their children is the activity they value most, and 34% of parents said reading stories as a child was one of their most treasured memories.

Pioneered by Huawei and featuring the beloved book ‘Where’s Spot’ by Eric Hill at launch, StorySign is available for free in Ireland from today - just in time for Christmas, a time when quality family moments are at the forefront of people’s minds. The app is launched in partnership with the Irish Deaf Society to raise awareness and much needed support for the charity.

Developed with an understanding of sign syntax to ensure a seamless translation and user experience, StorySign helps to open up the world of books to deaf children and their families; users simply hold their phone up to the words on the page and avatar Star signs the story as the printed words are highlighted. This helps parents and children to learn to read together and at their own pace.

“At Huawei, we believe in the power of AI and that technology can make a positive difference in the world”, comments Andrew Garrihy, CMO Huawei Western Europe. “We created StorySign to help make it possible for families with deaf children to enjoy an enriched story time. We hope that by raising awareness of deaf literacy issues, people will be encouraged to donate to or support one of the fantastic charity partners we are working with across Europe.”

Mark Wheatley, Executive Director, European Union of the Deaf, comments further: “With StorySign, Huawei is using the power of its AI and innovative technology in a meaningful way and we’re very hopeful that it will make a significant impact in the deaf community, helping more deaf children learn how to read at the same level as hearing children. We also hope the launch of StorySign will support a wider conversation about ensuring equality in every aspect of their lives for deaf people across Europe.”

John Sherwin, CEO Irish Deaf Society also commented, “The new StorySign App, shows the potential of technology to transform communications for families and schools. The first phase of the project, aimed at young children, shows how learning Irish Sign Language can be fun for the whole family. The Irish Deaf Society is excited about how this programme can be developed in the future. We look forward to strengthening our partnership with Huawei.”

StorySign launched today with a film by Academy Award® winning director Chris Overton and starring seven-year-old actress Maisie Sly, both of whom worked on Oscar®-winning short film The Silent Child. The StorySign film sees a young girl struggling to read with her father on Christmas Eve. Later that night when she sneaks downstairs to peek at her presents, she is stunned to see Santa who hands her a book for a gift. Upon realizing that the little girl is deaf, Santa begins to sign the book to her and at that moment, she is the happiest little girl in the world, as he helps her enjoy the magic of story time.

To watch the film and learn how you can help, visit Huawei.com/ie/campaign/storysign. Donations can be made via the StorySign campaign hub on the Huawei Ireland website throughout December and all money raised will support deaf child literacy projects across Europe, including more books for StorySign.

StorySign can be downloaded for free from Google Play Store and the Huawei AppGallery in 10 markets across Western Europe. Huawei worked with local charities under the European Union of the Deaf, publishing partner Penguin and animation specialists Aardman to develop the app.

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Huawei, the global technology leader, has announced the launch of StorySign.