As children with hearing disabilities face many challenges in terms of communication and have specific educational needs, Krousar Thmey has utilised technology to create a mobile learning app as a resource for disadvantaged children.
The newly launched ‘Words and Pictures’ app is dedicated to helping children with hearing and speech impairments. Even their relatives and friends can access a tool in the app to practice Cambodian Sign Language.
The app can also assist anyone interested in learning basic written and spoken Khmer or English, as well as Cambodian Sign Language.
According to Juliette Ezdra, a project and donor relations manager at Krousar Thmey Foundation, the organisation has worked with the Cambodian Sign Language Committee and the National Institute for Special Education to ensure the relevance of the application for children with hearing impairments.
“It is important to create adapted resources helping disadvantaged children, We believe that technology is a valuable tool in providing access to education and communication, which is why we created this educative and innovative application,” she says.
The original idea for the Words and Pictures application came to a consultant when she met with a young deaf boy, Tina, to whom the app is dedicated.
Tina and his father were explaining the difficulties they had to transfer from home-signs to formal signs. As they did not know about sign language, they started developing their own signs within the family, which is a common phenomenon called home signing.
Later on, the boy went to one of Krousar Thmey Special Schools for deaf or blind children, which were officially transferred to the Cambodian government in July last year.
“At school, Tina learnt formal Cambodian Sign Language. To be able to communicate with the boy, his family had to learn the new signs too. This influenced their communication and weighed on his emotional well-being,” Ezdra tells The Post.
Tina’s life experience sparkled the initial idea to tackle the communication challenge by using technology as a means to improve awareness about sign language in Cambodia and bring the ‘right’ signs to families from the very beginning.
The application was developed as a learning tool similar to the first words and pictures dictionary that many families have at home to help young children learn basic everyday words.
Developed by Open Institute, Words and Pictures is a result of collaboration with a consultant who went to Krousar Thmey to help jointly develop the app.
With a simple design, the inclusive application features over 500 words that are relevant to everyday-life situations, selected for their suitability to the Cambodian background.
The purpose of the application is to offer a fun picture dictionary with integrated sounds and sign language pictograms to facilitate and enhance communication between hard-of-hearing and deaf children, and their families or peers.
As schools are still closed nationwide and children are being confined at home, the application’s release was accelerated to provide an entertaining way for young children to learn and continue their studies at home.
“The project started before the outbreak. But considering the current situation, we decided to speed up its launch as we realised that many people, especially children who are currently out of school, could find such an education and communication tool very useful,” Ezdra says.
Words and Pictures is designed such that the application can be set up in Khmer or English only, or to have both languages appear on screen simultaneously.
Available for free on both the Google Play and Apple stores, the application has signs displayed as pictograms available in Cambodian sign language and American sign language with an audio file for each word, in Khmer and English.
In an individual dictionary feature, the user can also save their personalised selections of words. It is also convenient to use without having to connect to the internet. Once downloaded, the user no longer needs an internet connection to run the application.
Ezdra says: “Thanks to the personalised dictionary option, children can learn a range of words at their speed or they can scroll through the full dictionary to look at and enjoy the pictures.
“It targets anyone of any age group who would be interested in learning basic written and spoken Khmer or English, as well as Cambodian and American sign languages. Cambodian or foreign youth and adults will find the application useful.”
However, though the application is fairly simple, it took a relatively long time to develop. “This is because it became a lengthy process to choose the relevant words, pictures and sign pictograms, and then prepare them accordingly,” she says.
As the application was only released a couple of weeks ago, it is still quite early to have detailed statistics. However, over the weekend, the application was trending among the top three on Google Play Store in Cambodia, said Ezdra.
“We have received very positive feedback from users so far, and especially from the families of children with hearing impairments, who are happy to have a new tool to help their communications,” she said.
The application is suitable for all ages. Parents of children without disabilities have also found the application as a very useful resource for their children to continue learning at home.
Besides Words and Pictures, Krousar Thmey is working on another project for people with hearing impairments.
It is in the process of developing an e-learning platform with multiple functionalities, including a translator from Khmer to Cambodian Sign Language, and lessons for deaf children and those who are hard-of-hearing.
For over 25 years of its existence, Krousar Thmey has implemented a unique mix of special and inclusive education for Cambodian children with sensory disabilities, so that they will be empowered to grow into independent and responsible adults.
“It aims to promote learning Cambodian sign language and education using Cambodian sign language. To achieve this, Krousar Thmey is working closely with the National Institute of Special Education, as well as the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport,” Ezdra says, noting that, “this project is still in an early phase and is not yet ready for public use”.