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As part of the Microsoft #BuildFor2030 Initiative, in support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, we’re continuing to highlight solutions that are enabling broader societal impact, and our partners’ journeys growing their business on the marketplace. To honor Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Microsoft's @Adrienne Krefft sat down with Signly’s Tim Scannell to hear their story and partner journey.
About Tim: Tim is a native British Sign Language user. As Signly’s worldwide ambassador, Tim wants to see a world with sign language everywhere and more accessible websites using Signly’s online translation services.
About Adrienne: Adrienne is a Senior Product Marketing Manager with a passion for driving meaningful change in the technology industry. As part of the Microsoft Azure GTM (Go-To-Market) team, Adrienne focuses on engaging with ISV (Independent Software Vendor) audiences to help them build with the power of Azure. One of Adrienne's key contributions has been her commitment to championing accessibility and the importance of inclusivity across events, content, and helping drive awareness for social impact solutions on the marketplace. Advocacy is a central part of her life and this project with Signly is not only demonstrating the solution’s positive impact in the technology industry, but also showcasing a production process that actively kept empowerment of the Deaf community at the forefront.
[AK] Tell us about Signly and its mission. What inspired the founding?
[TS]: For Deaf people who use sign language as a primary means of communication, barriers are faced daily. These hurdles can lead to feelings of isolation and frustration, as well as restricted access to vital information and services. It is essential to acknowledge that sign language is a unique and beautiful medium of communication deserving recognition and promotion.
Despite ongoing efforts to enhance accessibility, people who are Deaf still face significant challenges. Access to healthcare, for instance, can be a strenuous journey, as many healthcare providers lack the necessary resources to communicate effectively with Deaf patients.
Utilizing the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, Signly provides a layer of technology that allows website owners to integrate sign language into their sites. This user-friendly software supports multiple languages and can be deployed swiftly and efficiently.
[AK] Tell us about your background and your time at Signly. What inspired you to join?
[TS]: Born profoundly Deaf due to maternal German Measles, I've struggled with communication barriers throughout my life. From misunderstood medical consultations to inaccessible travel announcements and unsupportive university resources, my experiences highlight society's frequent oversight of Deaf individuals' needs. This even extended to customer service, where a simple task like cancelling a mobile contract became an ordeal due to telephone communication being the only option.
English, as a second language for many British Sign Language (BSL) users, poses an additional challenge in accessing written information. However, technology like Signly—an app which translates written language into sign language—has the potential to mitigate these barriers. As of 2017, Signly was used in a museum environment using augmented reality.
In 2019, our focus shifted to meet high demand for quick English text to BSL translations on webpages. As a Signly Ambassador, I'm dedicated to promoting deaf awareness and advancing solutions that support the Deaf community economically and linguistically.
[AK] Can you tell us a bit about the application(s) you have available on the marketplace? How does it work?
[TS]: Signly, an innovative solution powered by Microsoft Azure, offers a fully managed Sign Language as a Service (SLaaS). For website owners, Signly seamlessly blends into your digital ecosystem with its low-code integration process. It effortlessly captures site text and funnels it directly to the Signly Studio, where it is quickly translated by our team of expert Deaf sign language translators (real humans, not avatars! Sign language has the complexity of handshape, orientation, location, movement, non-manual expression, body language expression, and its own grammar, syntax, and structure, that is not yet always accurately captured by AI at the moment.
Any sign language can be supported with Signly. With our advanced technology, a customer’s site is regularly scanned for updates, ensuring updated content is translated and recorded promptly. If a signed version of a page is not readily available, Deaf users have the option to select 'Request Signed Content'. Once translated, this content becomes accessible to all users.
A new Teams app named SignMe has been developed, allowing hearing individuals to quickly find and book Video Remote Interpreters (VRIs). This functionality allows the Deaf patient and the healthcare professional to be in the same room while the interpreter assists remotely via video screen. (Please note, SignMe serves as a bridge connecting VRI providers with hearing organizations; it does not directly provide interpreters). The UK healthcare industry has already begun trialing Signly's innovative technology, promoting more equitable access to information.
[AK]: Can you talk about your experience in building an app for the commercial marketplace? How has Microsoft supported you along your journey?
[TS]: Signly is a team of just three plus translators. Microsoft incubated Signly in their AI for Good program which was a solid foundation. After that we were enrolled as a Microsoft partner, which has given us global reach, something we have really struggled with given our limited resources. Large corporates like the ease of procuring Signly through Azure Marketplace. And the incentives and marketing benefits have been ultra-useful.
[AK]: Can you talk about your experience with ISV Success?
[TS]: ISV Success has helped us hit the ground running. To be honest, partnership was a whole new world for us, and we did need someone to ‘hold our hand.’ The program helped us to get a transactable offer in record time; left to our own devices we would have done it, but it would have taken about three times longer.
[AK]: What does Global Accessibility Awareness Day mean to you?
[TS]: Every country must understand the daily lives of its citizens and provide a variety of solutions to meet their communication needs. This includes language services for both spoken and sign languages, as well as technology to support their educational needs and skills, whether at home, work, leisure, travel or in sports environments.
Eliminating any barriers to any language is a demonstration of accessibility, diversity, inclusion, equality, and equity. This can be facilitated through both in-person and remote interpreters, and the integration of sign language into web content. The goal is comprehensive communication, incorporating various spoken languages and sign languages.
Many overlook the importance of language accessibility in all areas of life - from elevators to medical device use, emergency services, transportation and even utility bills.
[AK]: What are your greatest achievements to date?
[TS]: Our success is determined by what Deaf people say about the service not by what we say about ourselves. Sign language users were asked how Signly changed or would change their lived experience - they identified several areas: feeling less stressed followed by feeling more in control and equal, feeling higher levels of self-esteem and time-saved. The ability to request a sign language translation of any webpage is a world-first and only.
[AK]: Why is accessibility critical to the future of tech innovation?
[TS]: To quote one of our clients, “Why would we build product content or a service that some of our customers cannot use?” Doing so only pushes the problem to a later stage leads to downstream issues.
[AK]: What inspiring leaders do you look up to?
[TS]: We are inspired by people who bring their passion, commitment, and determination to play a part as activists for the accessibility agenda – even when it is not their day job. These people do not always get the recognition they deserve but they are a) all too rare, b) worth their weight in gold.
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Have questions for Mark or Adrienne? Comment below to continue the conversation!
- Join the Microsoft #BuildFor2030 Initiative, a call-to-action for Microsoft partners to drive changemaking, innovation, and collective impact, to help advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Hear our partners’ perspective on participating.
- Attest as a diverse business in Partner Center and be discovered on the marketplace.
- Join ISV Success program.