Design Research  /  Interaction Design

SignBright: A Storytelling Application to Connect Deaf Children and Hearing Parents

In the United States, 2 to 3 out of 1000 children are born deaf, and 90% or more of children with present-at-birth deafness are born into families where both parents are hearing.

While some hearing parents have adopted non-auditory means of communication, the vast majority lack the skills to communicate effectively with their children. This results in:


Relative performance of deaf children with hearing parents compared to deaf children with deaf parents is particularly enlightening, since it points to a fundamental difference in familial environmental conditions. As an example, Deaf parents commonly dialogue with their deaf children using sign language from a very early age, which has been shown to increase their linguistic aptitude and understanding of appropriate social cues.

“It's terrible, I can barely talk [with] my parents. We primarily talk on e-mail and there are so many misunderstandings because we can't talk to each other. They don't even know me well or my deaf friends. [...] Home is stressful, so many problems, and it sucks but we can't do anything about it since talking is hard.” — A deaf student in our initial interviews.

All the information from user interviews and literature reviews guided the creation of three personas—one primary, and two secondary. Each of them has a unique story and use case. This helped us come up with a better and more targeted solution.


Various technologies have been employed to good effect as educational tools for deaf and hard-of-hearing children, though many are limited in capability and rudimentary in form. However, technological solutions that adequately address the social needs of deaf children are nearly non-existent.

After identifying our target audience, deaf children ages 2-5 with hearing parents, we conducted a thorough literature review to determine relevant issues that impact this unique group.

  • The quality of early parent-child relationships can strongly influence academic and professional success, cognitive development, and feelings of social adjustment of deaf individuals, and that these impacts extend well into adulthood.

  • Exposure to language and meaningful forms of expression were also identified as primary factors contributing to higher performance and socio-emotional well-being among the deaf.

  • Interventions are most effective when they take place during early pre-verbal developmental stages, when children are typically learning proper responses to verbal cues and basic vocabulary through direct immersion.

In considering forms for a solution, storytelling emerged as a particularly impactful and familiar mechanism to promote parent-child bonding, language development, and other social skills. Numerous child- centered studies demonstrate the importance of storytelling and shared reading with parents. In early childhood (e.g., at kindergarten or at home), storytelling is well recognized as a means to support a child's development and to help the child express and assign meaning to the world, to develop communication, recognition, and recall skills, and to enforce relationships with peers and adults.

Baby playing with her mother with signbright

Our proposed solution, SignBright, is a storytelling application designed to promote connection between parents and deaf or hard-of-hearing children ages 2-5. The app allows parents and deaf or hard-of-hearing children to engage in the activity of storytelling, which promotes mutual growth and understanding and teaches language skills.

Laying out the very basic flow:


Refining the flow and adding some more details:


Sketching helps quickly explore ideas and lay them out on the screens taking into consideration the user flow.


The application enables users to learn and practice American Sign Language (ASL) and Signed English (SE) forms of sign language.


We chose vibrant colors and patterns to actively engage users and address the “visual” nature of deaf perception. Children will be able to create characters to represent themselves or people they know in stories. They options to customize existing characters or create new ones though available elements.


Primary interactive elements are emphasized through the use of bold forms and contrast, while secondary elements such as menus are allowed to fade to the back during engagement in learning activities.