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A voice for the deaf

September 17, 2017

Tech triumph

Tech triumph:  SSLIA creator Tsan Siu came up with the idea of using technology to provide instant sign language interpretation services via video calls.

Mobile assistance

Mobile assistance:  Sign language interpreter Stephanie Ma says she and her colleagues can help users of the app make phone calls or ask people on the street for directions.

Encouraging sign

Encouraging sign:  The app is making life easier for deaf people, like Lee Kwok-sing (left).

Easy interpretation

Easy interpretation:  The app also features news, weather and traffic reports announced in sign language.

Sign language is the principal form of communication used by the deaf. However, most people do not understand sign language, making it difficult for the deaf to communicate with the general public.


To make life easier for the deaf, non-profit social service organisation Silence has launched a free app called SSLIA, or the Silence Sign Language Interpretation App.


It provides instant sign language translation services via video call.


Communication challenge

Lee Kwok-sing, who is deaf, was diagnosed with a blood cancer three years ago. He needs regular medical appointments.


Sign language is his only way to communicate, which can cause difficulties when visiting the doctor.


"When I see a doctor they usually wear a mask, and I do not understand the English terms they write. The nurse also writes some difficult words, and even when I write to the nurse they do not understand, so it is very difficult to communicate with them."


Mr Lee has to ask friends or sign language interpreters to accompany him to medical appointments so he can communicate better with clinic staff. However, he lives in a remote area which means he cannot always get someone to help.


Instant interpreter

SSLIA allows users to contact an interpreter who can help them make a phone call or ask somebody on the street for directions.


Sign language interpreter Stephanie Ma said most users ask to make a call.


"For example, someone calls them many times but as the user cannot hear they do not know the purpose of the call.


"They can use the app to make a video call to us and then ask us to call the caller. Sometimes they forget they have ordered something, so it is deliverymen who are calling them."


Tech solution

The app's creator Tsan Siu has helped the deaf for more than two decades, rushing to all sectors of town to give assistance.


He found that just having a sign language interpreter was not enough in Hong Kong, so he came up with the idea of using technology to provide instant sign language interpretation services via video calls.


"I have been called out to help in cases in which police were involved. I had to take a taxi immediately to the home of the deaf person to help them communicate with the police officers.


"But sometimes I could not get there in time or I was too busy to help. Because few people can interpret sign language, I came up with the idea of developing this mobile app."


Social service

Mr Siu said the app also provides news, weather and traffic reports announced in sign language.


"Deaf people have difficulty receiving community information because the general media does not provide sign language translation. Even if there are subtitles, the deaf may not fully understand them, so the best way is to provide video with sign language translation."


SSLIA is one of the apps funded by the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer.


The Government has been accepting applications for the Digital Inclusion Mobile Apps funding scheme since 2012.


It helps non-profit social service organisations develop mobile apps that cater for the needs of the underprivileged.


Seventeen mobile apps have been funded and developed for free use so far.

Innovation and Technology Fund for Better Living