Learn Sign Language Through This Series Of Educational GIFs
We sat down with GIPHY to talk about their new information portal consisting of American Sign Language (ASL) GIFS
GIPHY, the world’s first and largest GIF search engine has collaborated with Sign With Robert, a sign language teaching service, to create a portal to a collection of American Sign Language (ASL) GIFS. These GIFS can be utilized to learn ASL in a way that has never been explored previously.
PSFK had the opportunity to interview those behind this collaboration to understand how access to this unique and expressive educational medium can promote inclusion and knowledge.
Can you please give us some information on Sign With Robert and your connection with the deaf community?
Sign With Robert: We want to give the public access to sign language from a deaf native sign language user. Robert DeMayo, who has been deaf since birth, is among the best sign language educators and is the star. GIPHY has a broader market than just sign language users and this opportunity exposes mainstream people to quality sign language. We hope that the GIFs entice people into wanting to learn more and either motivates viewers to license the series or encourages them to go out and take a sign language class from a qualified teacher. This not only benefits millions of deaf and hard of hearing Americans who utilize sign language, but also doctors, nurses, police and emergency workers who could save someone’s life by knowing a few signs.
The deaf community will be able to have fun with the GIFs and use them in emails, texts and social media to add humor, clarification or emphasis. We included many ASL idioms that are unique to Deaf culture. Non-sign language users will also enjoy learning new ASL vocabulary and they can support diversity by wishing people “happy birthday” or “please have patience” in sign language.
How do GIFs serve as an educational medium to aid in the learning/retention of ASL?
GIPHY: Sign language is a visual form of communication, and GIFs are an inherently visual format and means of expression themselves, so bringing the two together felt like a perfect match.
The GIF is really a perfect pedagogical tool in this instance not only because of the visual nature of ASL, but because the looping format makes it easy to watch and practice the signs through repetition without having to stop or pause or rewind.
How did GIPHY and Sign With Robert end up collaborating for this project and what are your goals?
GIPHY: GIPHY is forever expanding its library and exploring the GIF as a medium—where and how it’s being used, what else could we be doing with the format, what other types of content could or should we have. We are very passionate about education and inclusivity, and we wanted to explore GIF content in these areas in an inclusive way, creating GIFs that any and everyone could use.
We thought the looping format would make GIFs a perfect teaching tool and wanted to discuss the idea with someone from the Deaf community and find someone interested in making ASL GIFs with us. Our team knew director/producer Hilari Scarl from a writing class, and it turned out she and Robert had already completed Sign With Robert and had the content we were looking for in this comprehensive series.
We hope that all GIPHY users will see GIFs not only as an opportunity to communicate and entertain, but for their educational value as well. Hopefully these GIFs will promote awareness and inclusion in a fun and widely accessible way. We’re excited that this partnership brings increased visibility to ASL content within a network that extends beyond that of the Deaf community, and hope that it may incite interest in learning and understanding more about sign language and the Deaf and hard of hearing community as a whole.
How does the Sign With Robert portal work?
GIPHY: All of the Sign With Robert GIFs have been curated and ‘live’ on their own channel page on GIPHY, essentially making it an American Sign Language library. Here the GIFs are organized into an array of categories and subcategories to make it easy to navigate and explore content. Each GIF is tagged according to its content and indexed into the site’s search. A user can search for specific sign language GIFs from either the GIPHY home page or go directly to the Sign With Robert channel to explore or search.
Who comprises the target audience?
GIPHY: Anyone and everyone. The cool thing about these GIFs is that they don’t just have one purpose or function. Anyone looking to learn ASL in any capacity should definitely check them out, and use them as a learning tool. But they can just as easily be used for fun in texts with friends, emails with co-workers, etc.
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Katie Salen Tekinbas is a game designer, animator and educator. She is a professor in the DePaul University College of Computing and Digital Media. Previously, she has taught at Parsons' New School for Design, the University of Texas at Austin, New York University and the Rhode Island School of Design.