This week marks the International Week of Deaf People, which typically takes place during the final week of September. To commemorate, Snapchat has created three new AR lenses that will help users learn the basics of American Sign Language (ASL). Additionally, a handful of exclusive stickers were introduced in conjunction with the lenses. All of these features were created with input from deaf and hard-of-hearing employees at the company.
The three lenses are designed to educate the general public and also to bring awareness to the Deaf community. One of the lenses, “Fingerspell Username,” guides users through the process of spelling out their usernames, as the name suggests. While the other two, “Randomizer Fingerspelling” and “Random Words,” re-enforce the basics of ASL by generating basic words to spell.
The project was led by Jessica Pounds, a software engineer for Snap Lab, who is also deaf. According to Pounds, her own family had been struggling to learn ASL. “I’m passionate about this technology because I truly believe it’s going to break so many applications wide open,” she stated in a news release. “It’s tech like this that will help families like mine communicate and grow together.”
Third-party support — In addition to the internal assistance, Snapchat developed the initiative using AI and computer vision technology from SignAll, a Hungarian startup that creates technology for deaf people. By making it a point to be more inclusive, Snapchat may be able to retain a larger creator base as popular creators have been migrating away from the platform in the wake of a slowed payment system.
Perhaps the introduction of these lenses will encourage other tech companies to prioritize more tools that increase accessibility to all of the communities that exist on their respective platforms. Just this month, TikTok has highlighted deaf creators through its creator spotlight feature. Whether or not these initiatives stick in the months to come remains to be seen.