This App Lets Kids With Hearing Loss Enjoy Movies

A caring high school senior is improving accessibility for youngsters using sign language.

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Two teenage girls having a conversation using sign language

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If you’ve ever tried learning a foreign language, you’ll know that language is more than just words. It is an intrinsic bearer and builder of culture. And this doesn’t just apply to spoken language. Sign Language users have access to a unique and totally awesome culture. 

For many people with hearing loss, sign language is their native language, and Deaf culture, their native culture that extends to art, literature, social environments and much more. Now, these signers have the option to watch Disney movies in their first language, thanks to high school senior, Mariella Satow.

SignUp gives the gift of movie accessibility

As the BBC reports, Mariella, a UK citizen, found herself stranded in New York during the coronavirus pandemic. In between online high school classes, Mariella tried to teach herself American Sign Language. In order to gain familiarity, she wanted to watch movies translated into American Sign Language. When Mariella couldn’t find a single streaming platform that offered this, she realized a change was needed.

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Like many teenagers, Mariella found herself short on cash, but long on determination. According to SagHarborExpress, she walked up to seven dogs daily to fund her startup costs. 

Once she banked $3000, Mariella got to work. Mariella created a Google Chrome extension called SignUp. In compatible films, subscribers can use the extension to add a box with a Sign Language translation that plays alongside the movie. SignUp led with a translation of Mariella’s favorite Disney film “The Incredibles” and moved on from there to “subtitling” other popular films on Disney Plus with American Sign Language. 

"I had no idea what I was launching into the universe." joked Mariella to BBC reporters. Her platform took off faster than she’d imagined. Parents of children with hearing loss were especially thrilled to have movies available for those too young to read English subtitles. Deaf schools offered showings of her translated films. Since the platform hit the streets, Mariella has gotten hundreds of other requests for video translations.

More movies, music, podcasts and news for the hard of hearing community

Mariella isn’t the only one making waves with accessibility for people with hearing loss. In 2018, EtCanada reports, a performance by Eminem at Firefly went viral. Why? Because, right next to him on stage, American Sign Language interpreter Holly Maniatty, signed the lyrics at the impressive speed and beat of rap. 

And since then, there has been a greater push for inclusivity. Yahoo News featured the partnership between Ohio Citizens for Deaf Culture and Worthington Libraries. During the pandemic, these groups worked to create read-alouds of children’s books in both American Sign Language and spoken English; An important way to let children with hearing loss know that everyone is invited to story time.

Following action by the National Association of the Deaf, the White House now releases all updates and briefings in American Sign Language. As ABCNews reports, people with hearing loss were gratified by recent plans to also provide American Sign Language translation for the President’s address to Congress. This marked the first time in United States history that such an address was available in sign language.

Every day the world grows a little more accessible and interconnected. Could the future be a place where sound isn’t a barrier to communication and being differently-abled doesn’t limit one’s ability to experience life?

Mariella Satow hopes so. “I’m glad I could fill the gap in the small way I can,” Mariella explained. “I hope it sparks a movement of ASL captioning on everything.”

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