I have a mixed reaction, leaning to the negative, concerning news of a software translation program for British Sign Language. The avatars look cool, and the idea is neat, but I cannot imagine that Artificial Intelligence has suddenly improved so much that the translations represent a wide swath of potential meanings instead of a cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all reduction to dictionary definitions.
I was surprised at the endorsement from the Royal National Institute for Deaf people (RNID), until I looked at their website. I admit, I have not looked all that closely and do not know any contextualizing history…but the RNID is registered as a charity and the products on the home page are geared to late-deafened and hard-of-hearing people, not the culturally Deaf who use BSL as their native language.
In other words, the avatar system might work just fine for people using BSL now but whose first language is English. Notice the difference in the homepage of the British Deaf Association Sign Community. In fact, looking at their internal link on language, I’d say it looks like the most useful thing allies and advocates can do is make BSL legal and – therefore – subject to anti-discrimination law.
BSL was recognised as an official British language by the UK government on 18 th March 2003, but it does not have any legal protection. This means that Deaf people do not have full access to information and services that hearing people take for granted, including education, health and employment.