Zelda, an AI generated Auslan interpreter created in Australia
June 13, 2023
Auslan in a Digital World
Need to turn on the kitchen lights? There’s an app for that. Want to know what the weather’s like tomorrow? There’s an app for that too.
In a world where voice-controlled technology continues to rise in popularity, practical solutions for individuals with hearing impairments remain scarce. In 2018, an estimated 1.35 million smart speakers were reported in Australian households, a number that has grown substantially by 2021 with more than a quarter of Australians owning a smart speaker able to be used in conjunction with voice activation. Yet, for Australia’s deaf community, these technologies have largely been inaccessible.
This is where the Auslan Communication Technologies Pipeline steps in, with a breakthrough project named Zelda — a virtual assistant that recognizes and communicates in Auslan, the sign language used by the Deaf community in Australia and New Zealand. Unlike standard voice-activated assistants, Zelda relies on a visual interface. Users can sign their questions or commands, and Zelda will interpret and respond in Auslan, effectively bridging the gap in communication for the deaf community. Could this be the answer to the gap in accessible communication strategies and interpretation for many Australians?
University of Queensland leads the way
The team behind this innovative project, led by Jessica Korte from the University of Queensland, placed considerable emphasis on directly involving the Deaf community in the design process. This participatory approach resulted in the identification of other essential features to enhance Zelda’s usefulness. Deaf individuals suggested including alerts for specific sounds they can’t hear, such as doorbells, a baby crying, or a car alarm. Such additions could drastically reduce the reliance on neighbours and support persons for alerts and significantly increase autonomy for deaf individuals.
For many in the Deaf community, independence in adulthood is a second priority, and digital technologies in this space are not catering to those with limited to no hearing. While it’s true that a more user-friendly version of Zelda is still several years away, Dr. Korte is optimistic about its potential uptake. She points out that the Deaf community has a history of embracing technology that enhances their independence and improves their daily lives, and hopes that with further funding and exposure, this can significantly improve the lives of many.
The development of Zelda is a prime example of how technology can play a pivotal role in creating inclusive environments. It underscores the potential for technology to bridge accessibility gaps and foster greater independence for marginalised communities. Yet, it also underscores the importance of participatory design, emphasising that effective solutions are designed with the intended users, not just for them.
As we move forward in a world increasingly reliant on voice-activated technology, it’s essential to ensure inclusivity. Projects like Zelda remind us that technological advancements should benefit all members of society, regardless of their sensory abilities.
Meet Zelda – where Auslan meets Voice-Controlled Technology