European Sign Language Center
The European Sign Language Centre, ESC, was set up in 2009 as a non-political Non-Governmental Organization with Örebro, Sweden as its base. ESC works with issues related to access to sign language through different activities and projects. The most important one is the running of a Webbased translation tool for sign language, www.spreadthesign.com, which is currently established in 24 countries. This work has gained international recognition and has won several awards and prizes.
ESC was founded at the same time as a new language law was adopted in Sweden, and ESC is the institution that responds to the need to administer national sign languages for Sweden and for some other countries within the European Union. The main objectives for the ESC are:
- to meet the rights of all deaf children to their mother tongue
- to make sign language available on a global scale.
The overall perspective of the ESC is to increase access to sign language using widely available simple technology and to hereby prevent social exclusion for people with severe hearing difficulties. The aim is to promote this access globally so that everyone with hearing disabilities has the same possibilities as others to participate in societal life. Hence, two key concepts for the work of the ESC are equality and transnationality.
The ambition of the ESC is to establish Sweden as a base for national sign languages in Europe. Sweden has come quite far in the development of sign languages, and there is growing support for an initiative with the ultimate aim of setting up an EU Institute for Sign Languages in Sweden. The ESC has through the Swedish Delegation at the European Council so far received explicit support from five other Member States for this idea and motion.
The production of signs to be used in an international data base is guided by the needs of its users. It is clear from the high use of the data base, measured as number of visits per month, that access to this service is highly appreciated by people with severely reduced hearing capacity. This usefulness is verified by evaluations and the great interest with which this initiative has been met in Europe and elsewhere. The ESC has been given several awards and prizes for its work with www.spreadthesign.com during the last years.
Some notes about the ESC
- Founder and administrator of the largest dictionary of sign languages in the world, www.spreadthesign.com. This was inaugurated in 2009 by H M The Queen of Sweden and the Swedish Ministers for Education and Culture respectively;
- Responsible for the launching in 2011 of the largest sign language application with more than 60 000 signs in 10 different national sign languages;
- Organizer of a major international seminar “Accessing Society” in September 2011 in Stockholm which led to the inventory of national language signs which is now ongoing;
- Responsible for the proposal “Örebro, Sweden – capital for sign languages in Europe”;
- A core staff of 5 people employed and working in Örebro, Sweden;
- Almost 100 people from 24 participating countries form part of ESC´s organization;
- ESC receives funding for only part of its activities, and relies on non-paid input of around 3000 working hours per month. This work is mainly geared to the production of signs, but also to improve and simplify the technological access to the data base.
- Study regarding the effects of sign language on reading and writing skills on children without hearing disabilities;
- Web Psychology: Research together with the Örebro Regional Authority on possibilities of developing special modules on the Web for treating depression among people with hearing disabilities;
- T3 – Text to Signs. The ESC is developing computer software in order to translate text to sign language (similarities to Google Translate);
- SIGN 360. The creation of interactive pedagogical platforms with pictures for easy technological access for people with hearing disabilities;
- Prevent Illiteracy for deaf children in developing countries. A project, still in its first phases, aimed at increasing reading and writing skills among deaf children in developing countries. Uganda is one of the countries so far included in the project;
- Project in Poland, Estonia and Latvia with funding from the Swedish International Development Authority/Sida with the objective of increasing access to sign language;
- Signs via the Swedish site www.hitta.se. Inventory of geographical points for sign language as a service to the citizens of Örebro County, Sweden.