Users of the popular photo messaging app Snapchat can now access a brand new feature. Snap Inc. just launched (on April 5, 2022) the ASL Alphabet Lens which, as the social media company describes, is a first-of-its-kind Lens experience intended to inspire Snapchat’s 319 million users to start learning American Sign Language (ASL).
To build the originative product using augmented reality, Snap Inc. collaborated with SignAll, which develops cutting-edge tech for learning and translating sign language. This inclusive addition seems to be a natural expansion of the company’s effort to continually evolve opportunities for self-expression and connective communication.
Exclusively led by Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing designers at Snap Inc., called the Deafengers, the ASL Alphabet Lens teaches users to fingerspell their name, practice the ASL Alphabet and play games that put newly learned ASL skills to the test. The feature was built using groundbreaking hand-tracking technology that powered last year’s fingerspelling Lenses in honor of International Week of the Deaf.
There are approximately 48 million Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people in the United States, according to the National Association of the Deaf. And now, thanks to the Deafengers, the social media app is working to bridge communication gaps through inclusion, accessibility and collaboration. A statement on Snap Inc.’s website read: “For native signers, in a world where linguistic inequity is prevalent, we believe AR can help evolve the way we communicate. We look forward to learning more from our community as we strive to continuously improve experiences for everyone on Snapchat.”
The launch of the app’s ASL Lens was spotlighted on NBC’s TODAY Show. Hopefully, viewers will soon see more disability-friendly advancements within the tech sector.
“This is a huge step forward,” Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, declared during TODAY’s segment. “It makes technology more accessible. And I hope that this sends a message to other tech companies. There is such a rich opportunity right in front of them to incorporate American Sign Language in a variety of ways.”
Accolades like that make it all worth it for the change-making designers at Snap Inc., such as Austin Vaday, who is one of the innovative Deafengers. “We want the world to understand that sign language is important, and that everyone signing is important,” Vaday shared with TODAY reporters. And shouldn’t we all want that?!
This isn’t the first time that Vaday has made significant strides to promote the use of ASL and disability inclusion as a whole. In 2018, he led a TEDx lecture titled “Sign Language is my Superpower.” Well, let’s hope Snapchatters are now more motivated than ever to also embody that superpower to help bridge the gap between our Deaf and hearing communities.