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Helping the deaf community navigate around our city

Posted on 9 July 2018

A University of York academic is spearheading a project to help deaf visitors navigate their way around the city’s tourist hotspots - via a virtual avatar

A first for a UK city

Professor Tony Ward is part of a European Union funded project to develop the Virtual Signer, which can translate text to one of a number of national sign languages via an animated figure.

The ultimate aim is to locate touch screens around the city’s key transport hubs and tourist attractions, enabling deaf visitors from various countries to interact with the avatar.


The software is limited to the Portuguese, Libra, German, Cypriot, Greek, Slovenian, and British Sign Languages.

Professor Ward, from the University’s Department of Electronic Engineering said: “If you are a deaf person visiting York for the first time you want to experience the fantastic attractions we have to offer.

“You arrive at the attraction to be met with a speaking person who expects you to understand and be able to reply. 

“How do you feel?  Do you feel welcomed?  Do you know how to get past them so you can see the attraction?”

Professor Ward said the key was for visitors to get a quick and easy response, with the avatar signing in their chosen language.

“There is no cost of hiring a sign interpreter, no video recording costs – it is all there in the software, and you can engage in a live conversation with a non-signing person.“ Professor Ward added.


 Professor Ward said if implemented it would be a first for a UK city.

 “We are interested in exploring the interest in this tool for York's tourism business - the only city we are working with in this way. “

 The system will be showcased to the city’s tourism bosses and members of the deaf community at an event in York on July 12. 


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About this research

Professor Tony Ward, from the University’s Department of Electronic Engineering, is part of a European Union funded project to develop the Virtual Signer. Further details about the project can be found here