FOUR students from the Salesian College, Pallaskenry have clocked up a major national success with their innovative approach to improving communication between the hearing and deaf communities.
The four have just won the national finals of Junior Achievement, the enterprise competition aimed at school-going young people, beating off competition from over 2000 entries nationwide to take the winners’ title. And they will now go on to represent Ireland in the European finals.
The students Colleen Mullane, Pallaskenry, Fiona Mangan and Caoimhe O’Neill, both Kildimo and Ciara Reidy, Patrickswell took the ultimate award with their user-friendly phone application that combines high technology and high human values – and will help hearing people to understand and/or learn sign language.
“What our real motivation was, was to help the deaf community to communicate with the hearing community,” Fiona Mangan says, explaining their product.
The four young students became interested in sign language in Transition Year when they began learning it and were further inspired following a talk given by Maria Allen, principal of the Mid-West School for the Hearing Impaired in Limerick. They wanted to use technology to improve communication between the hearing and non-hearing community and initially, planned to set up a web-site. But they then felt an app or mobile phone application which could be downloaded to a smart phone would be more useful and more user-friendly.
And with that, Sign4Life was born – helped along by teacher Paul Whooley and mentoring from Dell, which backed the competition in Limerick.
The app includes an introduction, an alphabet, and contains signing video-clips for some 100 words, with signing done by two members of the Deaf Community Centre in Limerick. But, as the girls explained, this week, this is only a start.
“The template can be adapted for all the countries in the world. That is in our future,” the mini-company’s MD Colleen Mullane said.
The four are still exulting in the excitement of their win.
“We just screamed and cried. We were just so happy,” Fiona Mangan said describing their reaction to the judges’ announcement.
What clinched it for them, Colleen explained, was their use of technology.
“All the other ideas were very traditional,” she said.
But the judges also cited their ability to work as a team, their enthusiastic personalities and the fact that they knew what they were talking about during their four-minute presentation. The victorious team got a brilliant response from school-mates and teachers when they returned to their school this week.
“They were all so happy for us, so proud.”
Their next challenge will come later in the year when they represent Ireland in the European finals of the competition which takes place in Bucharest.
And they are pleased that sales of their app are now on the increase. It’s available for €4.49 by going to Google Play, and look for Irish Sign Language.