Breaking the silence

Start date
Research partner(s)
Centre for Inclusive Design

While some Deaf and Hard of Hearing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders rely on Australian Sign Language (Auslan) to communicate, others use traditional Aboriginal and Kriol (Torres Strait Islands) sign languages, or a combination of both. Interpreters are not always available, and the cycle of trauma, anxiety and poor mental health continues through a lack of communication.

The Australian Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted again the severe plight of Communities when it comes to justice. More than 90% of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in justice systems suffer hearing problems ranging from mild to severe. There are approximately 55 identifiable different signing systems and 18 sign languages systems communities still used in rural, remote and regional Australia instead of Auslan. Many of these systems are not documented. The court system doesn’t know or understand these languages often provides an Auslan interpreter or a pen and paper. Often people are not provided with adequate or appropriate supports.

Jody Barney, a Birri-Gubba/Urangan is one of the few known Deaf cultural interpreters with lived experience of all 18 sign systems, Auslan and experience with mainstream interpreter systems in justice and health. Her lived experience provides a starting point for the need for such a system. AI used for the recognition, translation and interpretation of sign languages offers a potential solution to identifying if a person is Deaf and is using a sign language or system other than or combined with Auslan. 

Initial research has been conducted in the use of AI for Visual language translation as well as on well documented visual languages of specific communities. There are significant questions on AI in terms of a cultural framework including, context, ownership, and trust as well and putting the onus on the system to communicate with the person rather than the other way around.

Initial research shows there are several apps that exist to map language health and other outcomes by and with Community. None, however, exist for the translation of traditional Aboriginal sign languages and language systems. While efforts have been made to preserve these languages these resources have never been drawn together to create a translation/communication tool owned by and created with Aboriginal people with hearing loss for use by mainstream systems.

We seek to conduct key research into Coding for Culturally appropriate AI. Our aim is to co-design a framework and methodology for an AI translation tool providing functionality to translate into both English and Auslan. It will also translate spoken English and Auslan hand gestures into sign language that is usable and useful for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities as well as mainstream organisations in Health and Justice.

The research project will take place in Wiradjuri country in terms of developing a prototype. While the project was originally placed in remote communities we have relocated the project because of COVID 19. The project team have strong links to this community.


There are no listed outputs for this project.