A new initiative in China in which a digital display provides messages in sign language may offer retailers and service providers in the UK a new means of communicating with deaf customers via their digital signage.

China Central Television (CCTV) and Baidu AI Cloud have teamed up to devise the new AI feature, which provides a virtual reality figure to provide sign language commentary on the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics, which will take place in Beijing.

In this case, the virtual reality figure is superimposed over live footage of sporting action, providing a signed equivalent of the audio commentary, Metro News reports. 

The two organisations said the new feature involves “overcoming the barrier of sound with technology”. 

Anyone who has seen live text commentary in the form of subtitles will know how inaccurate it can sometimes be, because it often involves a phonetic misinterpretation of the words spoken. Therefore this new method may be useful where outdoor big screens exist, be it featuring action from sporting events, or at festivals and country shows. 

Such screens might also be used in shopping centres or other public places, where the use of sign language may have the particular effect of attracting the attention of those with hearing impediments. This may be much appreciated by sign language users and might be particularly relevant in and around shops that provide products and services like hearing aids.

According to British Sign, there were 145,000 people at the 2011 Census who used British Sign Language as their preferred form of communication. While this means the market is a niche one and not a mass market, the addition of virtual reality or AI signing may be widely appreciated by users and prove to be very popular and useful in certain contexts.

Such signage may also appeal to people who may be interested in learning British sign language, perhaps as a recruiting tool for training courses.