A draw for young people or anyone interested in American Sign Language and history, “Deaf Pioneers Adventure App Development” is sure to captivate guests at Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival. The exhibit, located in the Student Alumni Union’s Fireside Lounge, takes viewers on an interactive journey alongside Laura Redden Searing, a deaf 19th-century journalist and poet. Through unique storytelling, exhibit creators will present a historically accurate portrayal of the woman who has become an inspiration to deaf people around the country. The single mother was a Civil War correspondent, world traveler and adventurer, and learned four languages and interviewed Abraham Lincoln at the White House using pen and paper.
“Traditionally, stories like these are taught using books, but we wanted to use technology so viewers can read and see the story in American Sign Language. It was exciting to think about what this might look like as an app,” said Chris Kurz, associate professor in the master's degree program in secondary education of students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing at RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. “While traditional modes of learning are still valuable, we thought it would be fascinating to tell historically accurate stories of some amazing deaf pioneers using animation and 3D modeling, and virtual reality with 360-degree views. And non-ASL users can also learn about these pioneers in English. This is a new approach in which the user really has a sense of involvement in the story.”
Guests to the exhibit will be able to use tablets or a desktop computer to see Redden Searing in a classroom at the Missouri School for the Deaf in 1855 and also on the battlefield where she often met with Gen. Ulysses Grant during the Civil War. Users can also play a telegram-based game and a drag-and-drop train game where users arrange puzzle pieces to “travel” from St. Louis to Washington, D.C., a route often taken by Redden Searing.
The team—three faculty members and seven students enrolled in different majors, including game design and development, film and animation, and the Master of Science in secondary education major, all from NTID—began working on the project last summer and hope to complete the animated story and 13 games in the app by the end of this summer. Then, development to incorporate other deaf pioneers into the app will begin.
“This has been a truly unique experience for all of the students and faculty members involved,” added Kurz. “We are happy to help different kinds of people learn in different ways. And we think that our exhibit will appeal to many different audiences, including deaf and hearing children, those interested in learning about American Sign Language, techies who like app development and history buffs. There is something for everyone.”