College of Computing at Georgia Tech creates language development technology to help hearing impaired children

Atlanta 18 October 2005The College of Computing at Georgia Tech, a national expert in the creation of real-world computing breakthroughs that drive social and scientific progress, has developed technology, in partnership with the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf (AASD), to help hearing impaired children improve their language development. The Federally-funded CopyCat project is an instructive computer game that uses a virtual sign language tutor to augment the classroom experience for hearing impaired children.

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Early childhood is a critical period for language acquisition, and exposure to language is key to linguistic development. However, since 90 percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents who do not know or have low levels of proficiency in sign language, hearing impaired children's only exposure to sign language often is at school. This limited exposure slows the pace of their linguistic development.

"The effects of late linguistic development for hearing impaired children can lead to a lifetime of difficulty, hindering their ability to communicate with people, including their own family members, on a daily basis", stated Dr. Harley Hamilton, educational technology specialist at AASD. "But while using CopyCat, the children display noticeable increases in enthusiasm, focus and fluent signing. The computer provides a patient, skilled, communicative partner for the children anytime they choose, and that level of interaction is invaluable."

Funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the United States Department of Education's National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, CopyCat enables hearing impaired children to interact with and sign to on-screen characters in a fun and engaging way while improving their communication skills. Results from fourth and fifth grade students at AASD already suggest CopyCat is a powerful tool for enhancing the communication skills of hearing impaired children.

"As a researcher, it is extremely rewarding to witness the success of a collaborative project in any arena. But by combining the College of Computing's state-of-the-art gesture recognition technology with AASD's expertise in deaf education and sign linguistics, we have made a difference in the lives of hearing impaired children", stated Dr. Thad Starner, assistant professor at the College of Computing. "The College of Computing is proud to be a part of CopyCat, and looks forward to developing more technologies which have a positive impact on everyday life."

The College of Computing at Georgia Tech is a national specialist in the creation of real-world computing breakthroughs that drive social and scientific progress. With its graduate programme ranked 12th nationally by U.S. News and World Report, the College's unconventional approach to education is pioneering the new era of computing by expanding the horizons of traditional computer science students through interdisciplinary collaboration and a focus on human centred solutions.


Leslie Versweyveld

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