When is a mouse not a mouse?

Sign IT, a new initiative from Barclays and the RNID, helps to translate IT jargon into sign language

The Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) is trying to address the problem of IT jargon with an interactive DVD which translates technology terms into a variety of UK sign languages.

Sign IT was jointly developed by Barclays Bank and multimedia production company Remark!, and defines some 100 IT terms using four variants of British and Irish Sign Language. It is available on DVD-ROM and CD-ROM and available via the RNID Web site.

Sharon Collins, RNID director of services, said that 19 percent of deaf and hard of hearing people are unemployed, compared to just 5 percent of the general population. At the same time, 90 percent of all jobs now require computer skills. Sign IT is designed to help level the playing field, said Collins.

"There is a fundamental assumption that IT enables disadvantaged people, but it only enables them if they can access it," she said. "Hopefully this would impact on their work and life opportunities."

Collins explained that computer-based training can be extremely difficult for deaf people as they cannot look at a sign-language translator and the screen at the same time.

"You can hear and read at the same time - but you can't see and see at the same time," she said.

Most IT terms have already been translated in to sign language, but some terms present real problems for deaf people, said sign media consultant and producer Clive Mason. He explained that the sign for mouse had traditionally been a finger touched to end of the nose -- the same as for the animal -- but that it often confused people into thinking that a real rodent was loose in the room. The updated sign for mouse is now a flat circular motion with the hand to imitate the action of using the peripheral.

The Web site for Together IT Works, the joint effort between RNID and Barclays, is the first ever to be translated into British Sign Language. According to an RNID spokesperson, a couple of others have adopted it since but the bandwidth constraints of having video clips of sign language interpreters make translation prohibitive for most sites.

Barclays' chief information officer, David Weymouth, said he hoped Sign IT would continue to have a sustainable impact: "I wish all the IT projects I ran were as successful as this one," he said

Under the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act, UK organisations are required to take 'reasonable steps' to ensure online services are accessible to people with disabilities.

A recent study found that 79 percent of the 105 UK Web sites tested failed basic compliance testing, with financial and travel sites doing the worst job. Local government fared better, but 40 percent of these sites also failed to meet accessibility standards.