MobileASL: Intelligibility of Sign Language Video As Constrained by Mobile Phone Technology

Anna Cavender, Richard E. Ladner and Eve A. Riskin


University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA


For Deaf people, access to the mobile telephone network in the United States is currently limited to text messaging, forcing communication in English as opposed to American Sign Language (ASL), the preferred language. Because ASL is a visual language, mobile video phones have the potential to give Deaf people access to real-time mobile communication in their preferred language. However, even today’s best video compression techniques can not yield intelligible ASL at limited cell phone network bandwidths. Motivated by this constraint, we conducted one focus group and one user study with members of the Deaf Community to determine the intelligibility effects of video compression techniques that exploit the visual nature of sign language. Inspired by eyetracking results that show high resolution foveal vision is maintained around the face, we studied region-of-interest encodings (where the face is encoded at higher quality) as well as reduced frame rates (where fewer, better quality, frames are displayed every second). At all bit rates studied here, participants preferred moderate quality increases in the face region, sacrificing quality in other regions. They also preferred slightly lower frame rates because they yield better quality frames for a fixed bit rate. These results show promise for realtime access to the current cell phone network through signlanguage-specific encoding techniques.

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