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GraceSigns, a Sign Language and Literacy App for Children with Disabilities

February 12, 2018

When Valerie Carter’s daughter Grace came home from school — like any parent — Carter wanted to know how her day went.

But, because Grace has Down syndrome and apraxia, it was difficult for her to answer and for the two to communicate.

In their frustration, they learned sign languge and implemented signs like “school,” “friend” and “playing” into their conversations.

Seeing how sign language made a difference for them led the Tiburon resident to found GraceSigns, a nonprofit that creates sign language and literacy apps that incorporate story, song and video, and showcase children with disabilities.

The nonprofit released its first app, Sign Me A Story, in 2013 and is set to release Sign Me ABC’s next month.

Q What inspired you to create GraceSigns?

A The inspiration came from my daughter, Grace. She’s always had speech challenges. When she was quite young, I would go to her school and do read alouds to the children and I decided to try to teach them some sign so they could communicate with Grace. I would make up stories and imbed some signs in them. ... Her having a disability is by no means a negative. I wanted to take that and showcase her, and that’s why we put her in the apps. She’s kind of our spokesperson.

Q What a lesson that you want kids to take from the apps?

A In Sign Me A Story, it’s about being different, and embracing our differences and it’s OK if you’re outside the box.

Q How do you integrate children into the apps?

A The children who are demonstrating the signs, exclusively in the first app, were two children with Down syndrome, but now we have children with autism, children with physical disabilities, as well as typical children. We’re trying to build disability awareness as well as teach sign language. We’re not just teaching sign language to children with disabilities, because then who would they communicate with? We’re trying to teach sign language to all kinds of kids, parents and teachers, so that they can communicate with so many children. My daughter has language now, she uses signing a little bit, but there’re so many children that have no language at all. We’re trying to give them a voice, be able to communicate with peers, and get their needs and wants expressed.

Q How did sign language influence your interactions with Grace?

A It’s something I learned with my daughter. We had tutors and we would self-teach. She would learn a little bit in school and come home and teach me, and it was a way for me to have a conversation with her because I would be so frustrated when she was small. It opened up a lot of opportunities for her and since then, we’ve always just used signing with her as another tool in the toolbox.

Q What are some of your favorite words in sign language?

A I love the animals because they’re fun to sign and they’re so intuitive. “Happy” is a really fun one, and “smile.” Sometimes I sign to somebody and I don’t realize I’m doing it.

Source: Marinij