Seventy million people worldwide use sign languages. They are divided by 126 different languages, each with its own vocabulary. However, there are very few dictionaries to bridge the gaps between these languages. A Japanese entrepreneur is creating an online sign-language dictionary to help deaf communities across the world converse.
As a teenager, Junto Ohki was entranced by sign language. At university he formed a sign language club and later became a certified sign language interpreter. But he soon realized users were divided by 126 languages worldwide, each with its own grammar and vocabulary – and there were very few dictionaries to help them interact.
It’s not that deaf people are less skilled. Society makes them disabled because society is only for hearing people. I want to change that.
To bridge this gap, in 2011 he created SLinto, the first online sign-language database using crowdsourcing to gather signs from practitioners and a special keyboard he developed to input them. He recognized that through crowdsourcing, richer vocabularies could evolve and provide a platform for deaf people to more easily access social and business services.
With more than 3,000 entries, SLinto is Japan’s biggest database of signs, and Ohki’s goal is to reach 10,000 over the next two years. He is also aiming for 7,000 signs in the United States and 3,000 in a developing country, most likely India, where he has already had interest from deaf schools. Beyond these short-term goals, Ohki believes SLinto has the potential to be a ground-breaking resource that will remove barriers between the sign languages used by 70 million people worldwide.
People worldwide who use sign languages
Sign languages in the world, each with its own grammar and vocabulary