Chat Screen of Communicator
(c) Michigan State University Comm Tech Lab, 1995.

The Personal Communicator:
A Communication Environment for Deaf Children

"Classroom and futuristic screen backgrounds make learning fun as the Personal Communicator helps deaf children, and their hearing peers to communicate better"
-NewMedia Magazine, November 1994

The Personal Communicator Macintosh CD-ROMis priced at $99.00, plus shipping and handling. 8MB of RAM is required.

To order call: 517.353.9229 or fax: 517.432.2650

The Chat Screen
The Conversation RecorderThe English-ASL DictionaryThe Writers NotebookThe Sign Language Playroom

The Personal Communicator provides deaf students with a tool that is custom-designed to meet their communication needs. The multimedia nature of our software is also conducive to learning. The children will see digital video of someone signing, alongside text of the word or phrase in English. The digital video signing can be played over and over, until the child is comfortable with the articulation of the sign.

At any point in the software, children can choose to have the computer speak a word, sentence, paragraph or story they have written previously, or one they have just selected. Rather than being assigned random lists of vocabulary words to memorize, they will be learning new vocabulary in a "discovery learning" mode, by consulting the dictionary/thesaurus when they are searching for a word they want to either use in a dialogue or to know about.

In addition to using the dictionary/thesaurus to seek specific words, the Personal Communicator will also serve as a tool to explore relationships within the ASL language and between ASL and English, both for deaf children and their hearing associates.

Form as well as functionality is important in the design of the Personal Communicator. We want to create software that is appealing and fun to use, to help motivate deaf children and their hearing peers to want to communicate with it. Children will be able to choose from an expanding set of graphical user interfaces, all of which share identical functionality. So far, three screen designs have been crafted: a basic classroom environment which will be the default, perhaps easiest for learning; "Jurassic Communicator" featuring a prehistoric, cave person look and feel; and "Space Tech", a futuristic spaceship environment.

We include sign and speech synthesis instead of just speech synthesis because the Personal Communicator is not just a talking computer but a tool which along the way will hopefully help deaf and hearing children appreciate the value and richness of ASL as well as spoken and written text. In a sense, the Personal Communicator is a celebration of language in many forms.

The four primary interlinked components of the Personal Communicator include the Chat Screen for communication with others, the English-ASL Dictionary for looking up word meanings and signs, the conversation Recorder for accessing the previous week's conversations, and the Writer's Notebook for writing, saving, signing and speaking stories and correspondence.

There is also a Sign Language Playroom for people to not only have fun, but learn new signs along the way. Included in the playroom are clickable objects that react to the user with audio and video feedback, and give the user the sign for the object they selected.

The Personal Communicator Project is partially funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Principal Investigators are Dr. David Stewart and Dr. Patrick Dickson in the College of Education and Dr. Carrie Heeter, Director of the Comm Tech Lab at Michigan State University.


ASL Signs performed by Marta Belsky.
Dictionary definitions and synonyms by Houghton Mifflin Company, reprinted by permission from THE AMERICAN HERITAGE CHILDREN'S DICTIONARY.
Interesting things about the signs by David Stewart.

(c) 1995 Communication Technology Laboratory
Michigan State University