Date Created: July 2017.
Fields: Computer Science, American Sign Language.
Description: Website designed to teach users basic American Sign Language (ASL).
Tools Used: Cloud9, Riddle, HTML/CSS.
Credits: Ashley Sanchez, Jianna Li, and Rene Stroughter

A screenshot of the SignAcademy team signing 'hello' while wearing Girls Who Code shirts.

How Does It Work?

The Content

While the class watched movies or worked on lessons, I taught myself basic American Sign Language (ASL) using a website called Memrise. On the way to class, while I was trying to sleep, and while scrolling through social media, I "talked" to myself using fingerspelling[1]. When I got bored, I opened up Memrise and practiced even more.

Because I knew the most ASL, I was in charge of creating the content of SignAcademy. I spent most of my time writing up lessons, taking pictures and videos of me signing[2], and creating quizzes to check for understanding.

The Lessons

Lessons on SignAcademy start with an image carousel. The carousel shows the user the signs that they need to learn for that lesson. Below the carousel is a progress bar and a written lesson that gives basic instructions on grammar and etiquette. At the very top is a pretty header designed by another girl on the team, and at the very bottom is a button that takes users to the quiz page.

At the moment, SignAcademy has four lessons: the alphabet, numbers, basic phrases, and questions.

The Quizzes

Each lesson has its own quiz. These were probably the easiest thing on the website for us to make, since we didn't really make them. We created them on a website called Riddle and embedded the quizzes in our website. It's kind of a cheap way to do it, but to be fair, we were total beginners with very little experience with JavaScript.

The Process

What I tell everyone is that I got the idea of learning ASL while visiting of Gallaudet University. I visited Washington, D.C. over spring break of 2017, and stayed at a hotel on their campus. Gallaudet is a private university for the deaf and hard of hearing, so I would more often than not come across someone who communicated through ASL. Seeing groups of young adults laugh in tell jokes with their arms inspired me to learn the language myself.

I did stay at Gallaudet, and it did make me think that ASL was really neat, but it wasn't what motivated me to learn. In reality, I got pretty sick during the few weeks before I was supposed to start at Girls Who Code, and I lost my voice. Writing everything out was lame, and learning a new language could cure my boredom while I waited for GWC to start. So yeah, Gallaudet gave me the idea, but catching a nasty cold gave me the motivation.

Once GWC finally began and we were choosing our final projects, I pitched the idea of an ASL website to the class. My "vision" for the project was basically to have a very watered down version of Duolingo, but for ASL. The other girls were assigned to my group based on their interest in the project, and we picked roles based on what we liked to do. For example, I was supposed to work the back end of the website. I ended up taking over a lot more than that, since this project was my baby and it had to be perfect.

Obviously, the website ended up being far from perfect. I might have had a pretty sweet idea, but the four of us were still beginner coders. I wanted to clean the website up a little, maybe add new lessons and make it look nicer with some basic Bootstrap, but we started it over a year ago. I've since fallen very, very out of touch with my ASL.

  1. Fingerspelling is basically signing each individual letter of the alphabet. It's useful when there isn't a universal sign for something. For example, you can tell someone what your name is by spelling it out. ↩︎

  2. "Signing" something is the ASL equivalent of saying a word. For example, one wouldn't "say" hello, but "sign" hello. ↩︎