Technology-based resources for Deaf Education

Family Educational Services Foundation (FESF)


Organization Type: Civil Society | Category:

Project Summary

There is a high incidence of deafness in Pakistan; less than 5% of Pakistan’s estimated 1.25 million deaf children attend school and become literate. Literacy development has been further hindered due to the lack of resources available in sign language for literacy development. The lack of ability to develop language skills can result in alienation, underemployment, and a diminished quality of life for these children.

FESF has harnessed technological advances in Pakistan to fill the tremendous void of resources for the Deaf through the development of technology-based PSL educational resources in Pakistan Sign Language (PSL), English and Urdu. These resources, including a digital dictionary with 5,000 words/signs, are currently being used in 7 schools for the Deaf in Pakistan, providing education to 1300 Deaf children each year. Within the next two months, these resources will be made widely accessible to all deaf and special needs schools, children, their teachers and their families countrywide via the Internet, providing the opportunity for access to quality materials that has not previously been available.


There is a high incidence of deafness in Pakistan, estimated in 2010 as comprising over 1.25 million profoundly deaf school-age children. (Estimated statistics provided at the National Taskforce Planning Meeting Feb. 2010, “Audio 2020 – Pakistan” - Islamabad, Pakistan (
Less than 5% of Pakistan’s 1.25 million deaf children attend school and become literate, and the percentage is much lower for deaf girls. Those who attend specialized schools generally face a delay in literacy development due to their parents’ and teachers’ inability to communicate using sign language. The literacy levels of the majority of deaf students who complete elementary or even secondary school therefore tend to be very low.
Literacy is further hindered due to the lack of sign language reference materials. Scant resource material exists in dictionary form to assist students in strengthening the language skills necessary for academic achievement. Since the creation of an 800 hundred word/sign dictionary 20 years ago in Islamabad, no new PSL reference materials had been created or made available to the public until FESF’s recent creation of digital PSL Resources.

There is a positive link between proficiency in a signed language and general language literacy for deaf children. A number of studies have examined the relationship between American Sign Language (ASL) and English literacy and found that deaf children who attained higher levels of ASL ability significantly outperformed children in the lowest ASL ability level in English literacy, regardless of age and IQ.
The lack of literacy and communication skills often has lifelong and devastating consequences in the personal development of deaf individuals and their ability to develop marketable skills and thereby become economically independent and contributors to the community and their households. Many are socially marginalized, bereft of sufficient social skills, or members of low income families lacking in the resources to improve their quality of life. The acquisition of literacy and communication skills is absolutely essential to their personal development and social and economic well-being.

A growing body of research indicates that information and communication technologies promise new hope in raising literacy levels for the Deaf (M. Glaser and W. D. Tucker, Telecommunications Bridging Between Deaf and Hearing Users in South Africa, 2004).

Pakistan has experienced explosive growth in the information and communication technology industry in recent years. Prices for bandwidth and mobile services are among the lowest in the world, making them accessible to even the poorest segments of the population.

Technology-based PSL educational resources will be made available free of charge via the internet, interactive DVDs, and mobile phones within two months of the writing of this proposal. These resources will be accessible to all deaf and special needs schools, children, their teachers and their families countrywide, providing the opportunity for access to quality materials that has not previously been available.


There were almost no PSL resource materials available in dictionary form to assist students in strengthening the language skills necessary for literacy and academic achievement. There are few schools for the Deaf in Pakistan, and school-aged deaf children are a largely underserved segment of the population.

Family Educational Services Foundation (FESF) has depth of experience and success in providing education to deaf children through its Deaf Reach programs. Over the years, it has built its own academic curriculum based on internationally accredited standards and adapted to meet the needs of the Deaf. FESF has substantial experience with developing its own educational materials and using technology-based approaches. All Deaf Reach Schools and Centers have visual/media aids in each classroom, and state of the art IT labs.
The innovative project goal was to build on that experience to develop technology-based resources that will empower deaf children in Pakistan to acquire literacy and communication skills, thus improving their ability to achieve academically and, ultimately, their quality of life.

This project nominated to the ISIF Asia award because…

Family Educational Services Foundation (FESF) is a non-profit, educational organization committed to enhancing the quality of life, education, and employment opportunities of the disadvantaged of Pakistan, with particular focus on deaf children and youth. To this end, FESF’s Deaf Reach program was established in 1998, to provide academic and vocational education to deaf children and youth (with focus on educational access for deaf female students), particularly in rural areas with little access to formal education or vocational training for the Deaf.

FESF’s staff has devoted the past 25 years to improving the quality of life of deaf children and youth in South and East Asia. Through their programs, schools, and resources developed to educate deaf children and youth and train teachers, thousands of children have had the opportunity to become literate, be educated, learn sign language, and master marketable skills. Through FESF’s 7 Deaf Reach Schools and Training Centres, 1,300 disadvantaged deaf children in rural areas of Pakistan have access to free education and vocational programs where none existed before. The schools boast modern technology, curricula, amenities and a 40% enrolment rate for girls.

With this wealth of experience in deaf education under their belt, and seeing the tremendous paucity of resources for Deaf education and the resultant disadvantages faced by deaf children, FESF undertook the daunting task of developing high quality standardized technology-based Pakistan Sign Language (PSL) learning resources that can be widely used throughout Pakistan. These materials are filling a tremendous need in providing access to deaf school-age children to literacy programs and resources that empower them to become literate and communicate in PSL, as well as Urdu and English. These materials also have the potential to increase female literacy rates amongst the deaf and provide access to resources to girl students unable to attend school, due to their accessibility via the Internet, making it possible for them to learn from home.


1. Title: Project Director – Richard Geary Horwitz (USA – resident in Pakistan)
a. Responsibilities: Supervision of project staff and consultants, tracking participation and outcomes, preparing reports, implementing evaluation strategies, and reporting evaluation data.

2. Title: Academic Specialist – Heidi V. Gustanski (Philippines– resident in Pakistan)
a. Responsibilities: Quality of academic and linguistic content. She will serve as a resource consultant to facilitate content development, provide training, and engage in effective practice work.

3. Title: Administrative Coordinator – Daniel Marc Lanthier (Canada– resident in Pakistan)
a. Responsibilities: Financial management of the project, tracking and monitoring expenses, and quarterly financial reporting to the Project Director.

4. Title: Technical specialists – Umair Aziz (Pakistan) and Hafsah Syed (Pakistan)
a. Responsibilities: Oversight of the technical aspects of producing the resources detailed in this application.
i. Hafsah Syed is a General Manager at GEO News, former Executive Producer/Head of Features at Dawn News TV and is a documentary film maker. She will oversee the production and editing of all digital material.
ii. Umair Aziz is the director of the Aziz Group of Companies and serves as Chief Technology Officer at Creative Chaos (Pvt.) ( He specializes in the design and architecture of web-based and distributed desktop applications. He will oversee the creation of the digital resources: DVD, Web Portal, Phone application
5. Title: Research Assistant : Imran Hussain (Pakistan)
a. Responsibilities: Assist with Pakistan Sign Language research necessary for all components of the PSL resources that will be created (PSL DL, portal, DVDs, books and TV show).
6. Title: Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator : position pending
a. Responsibilities: To collect, organize and analyze data, maintain project database on all components of the PSL resources that will be created, assist with preparing reports and tabulating results, and maintain linkages with beneficiaries etc.

Other organizations that participated are:

1) Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund: Contributed an amount towards completion of the PSL Pilot project and for ongoing research and development for the start of Phase 1 compilation and filming.

2) Pakistan State Oil, Ltd: Contributed an amount towards completion of the PSL pilot project and for ongoing research and development for the start of Phase 1 compilation and filming.

3) DFID-Ilm Project: Was the main contributor for the creation of the previously mentioned deliverables.


This project successfully documented Pakistan Sign Language through digital technology, providing an educational resource that will empower teachers of the Deaf and students to learn sign language and develop communication skills. In order to do so, hundreds of signs were created for words that previously had no signs. These were all documented via a digital and visual PSL dictionary, a print PSL dictionary, providing translations into English and Urdu, to further expand the usefulness of these resources in language-learning.

Considering that the focus of this project is to provide the needed vocabulary building blocks for primary school children, primary efforts were directed toward the creation of signs pertaining to academic subjects and skills. This area also has the largest gap in terms of existing signs. Much of this is due to the fact that the majority of deaf children do not attend school. Thus, most sign language is used by deaf adults, and the existing sign language vocabulary is more limited to functions and activities outside of school topics. The PSL Digital Library, currently containing 5,000 words will be a comprehensive and continually expanded reference work documenting PSL, and serving as a basis for the PSL Visual Dictionary.

The PSL Portal, in its last stages of development, will make these resources widely available beyond schools for the Deaf or disabled, to all Deaf children, including the many who do not attend school, due to the lack of specialized educational facilities for the Deaf.

1. Compilation of word lists for PSL Visual Dictionary (PSL – VD):
Research teams already established to compile the word lists for the Pilot PSL VD will continue to collaborate to complete compilation of topical word lists for Phase 1 – with a goal of compiling 5,000 words, and Phase 2, to create lists of an additional 3 –5,000 words. One of the principal focus areas will be words pertaining to academic and skills training topics, as there is a dearth of sign language for vocabulary in these areas.

2. Documentation of existing signs, and creation of new signs for PSL VD:
The research and development teams that documented existing PSL and who also created new signs where no signs existed for the Pilot PSL-VD will compile the initial list of 5,000 words for filming in Phase 1. They will determine which words do not have an accompanying sign, and collaborate to create a sign that meets with generalized approval. (Note: FESF has endeavored to collaborate with a diverse group of Deaf people on this committee who are considered experts in their use of Pakistan Sign Language. They are located in Karachi, Lahore, Sukkur, and Hyderabad – thus giving a broad regional scope in order to take into account local “dialects” where the same word may be signed differently in different cities of Pakistan. At the same time, there is no universal country-wide standard that has been approved, nor has there ever been a body set up to do so. This project will be pioneering new territory in this regard. We are satisfied from our samples and testing thus far that better than 95% of the signs we have documented or created have been acceptable to the Deaf community at large when tested on groups of deaf teenagers and adults who use sign language as their predominant means of communication. This phenomenon of “regional dialects” resulting in more than one sign for a given word is a common challenge to the efforts in most countries to document the native sign language. Many books and articles have been written on this theme with regards to attempts to document American Sign Language (ASL), arguably the most widely used and advanced of sign languages worldwide).

3. Filming of Phase 1 signs – 5,000 words:

We will utilize the in-house studio that was set up in Deaf Reach School for the pilot project to film the individual words and their signs. Each word/sign will then be edited and contain the following:
1) A live actor signing the word
2) A color photograph, or graphic/animation of the word
3) The word written in Urdu
4) The word written English
5) An Urdu voice-over of the word
6) An English voice-over of the word.

These six component facets for each unique word will ensure maximum impact, and provide input at all levels of viewer literacy – whether deaf or hearing. There has been some filming of words already done in this regards in order to develop a workable format and system. Hafsah Syed, director of this project, is supplying the equipment, technicians, and oversight of the filming.

4. Editing of Phase 1 Signs – 5,000 words:
Once filmed, the digital signs will go to the editing and enhancing stage. Background graphics or animation will be inserted, the English and Urdu script inserted, the voice-overs inserted, and overall final word completed. Hafsah Syed will provide oversight of the final product.

5. Authoring of Interactive DVD:
After completing the PSL Digital Library, a professional company will be engaged – Creative Chaos Pvt. – to develop an interactive DVD. The goal will be to have searchable word lists by topic as well as alphabetically, as well as to include interactive vocabulary building games, quizzes, activities etc. that would be utilized in any of the three default languages – PSL, Urdu, English. The final DVD would then be faced, cased, and reproduced.

6. Accompanying Printed Material:
A PSL book and flash cards would be developed to accompany the DVD, as well as for stand-alone use. Deaf artists already employed by Deaf Reach are available to create the needed artwork. Discussions are in process with Oxford University Press to determine what would be the best and most cost-effective model to employ to this end, and how to best distribute the material to accomplish maximum impact.

7. PSL Web Search Portal:
After completing the PSL Digital Library, Creative Chaos Pvt. will be engaged to develop an interactive online web portal containing the same elements as the PSL Visual Dictionary, and including interactive features whereby parents can ask questions, request information, find educational opportunities for their children, and order the PSL DVD and books.

8. Web Based Mobile Phone Application:
After completing the DVD and Web portal, a mobile phone app will be developed by Creative Chaos Pvt. Many deaf people in Pakistan use smart phones, as well as a large number of hearing persons involved in the Deaf community (i.e. parents, teachers, professionals) to whom having access to instant vocabulary would be convenient. (According to the Pakistani Telecom news ( ), cell phone density is 63%, and 96% report having access. Cell phone costs are low, and the majority of Deaf have cell phones – as SMS is their preferred way of communication).

9. Outreach and Dissemination Mechanisms: Once the materials are developed, there will be an active outreach program that disseminates them across the country.
Direct Beneficiaries:
900 deaf school-aged children
250 hearing children in mainstream schools
115 students in special needs institutes
150 parents
220 teachers
Recipients of end-product – out-of-school youth, rural classrooms, centers for the Deaf

Indirect Beneficiaries:

Family and community members of the direct beneficiaries.

Immediate Impact
PSL-VL is a unique product that addresses an important demographic of Pakistan society. It is the first of its kind in Pakistan, and a niche product with a ready-made market that is clamouring for its distribution. The results of the project evaluation gives us every reason to be assured of the product’s potential for a far and long-lasting reach throughout Pakistan, and indeed worldwide as a model of what can be achieved in a developing country. As more and more become aware of this product, we have been receiving positive messages that share our enthusiasm.
A ‘Word of the Day’ feature was introduced on FESF’s online platforms, which introduced a new word from the PSL-VL library. The feature, in the month of November alone, garnered 10,550 unique downloads from 65 countries and generated links to 31,200 individual newsfeeds in over 50 countries.
Presentations of this project have been given in Dubai, USA, Canada, and Holland – and the response has been very positive. At the International Conference on Deaf Empowerment, held in Dubai in April 2014, queries were received from representatives of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Oman as to how they might replicate our model for their purposes.

Further messages of support have been received from international leaders in deaf education:
16,000 PSL books and 8,000 DVDs were distributed free of cost to 82 Deaf institutes and clubs in 53 cities nationwide!
PSL Courses were held in 5 cities for 725 participants of which 75% were female.
Awards: PSL was awarded The Pakistan Software Houses Association for IT & ITES 11th annual [email protected] ICT Awards November 15, 2014 for the best innovation for the Education and Inclusion Sector. And competed for the prestigious APICTA Awards 2014 held in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Recent news coverage:–-Giving-talking-hands-a-voice!
PSL launches: were held in the main 3 cities of Pakistan; Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad. The invitees included members of the diplomatic corps, senior government officials, CEOs of the major corporations.
Meetings with the governments: were held in all the provinces with Special Education and Educations seniors government official and ministers.

“This is an excellent website and I appreciate you sharing the beta version with me. I would like to use it as a model of what can be done, and see how we can help to build capacity for organisations working with the deaf in other developing countries.”
- Dr. Joseph Murray, President, World Federation of the Deaf, Finland

“Congrats! What a great job on your PSL videos! They are clean and clear and are in both Urdu and English - the site is easy to navigate. A wonderful resource that is going to benefit many!”
- Amy Wilson, Head of International Studies, Gallaudet University for the Deaf, Washington D.C.

“I LOVE the website - what a wonderful resource! Clean, crisp, easy to navigate, FAQ useful answers, ordering DVD, books, or app sounds great. Sent a test email - it went through. Quality of video images - excellent. Well done and congratulations!”
- Debra Russel, President, World Association of Sign Language Interpreters, Alberta, Canada

Technical details and contribution to innovation

• A PSL Digital Library and Visual Dictionary of 5,000 words/signs in 3 languages (PSL, Urdu, English)
• An interactive PSL DVD with signs for 5,000 words.
• A PSL web portal – with search access to 5,000 words/signs (in PSL, Urdu and English)
• A PSL web based mobile phone application with 1,500 words/signs (in PSL, Urdu and English)


Developed high quality standardized technology-based Pakistan Sign Language (PSL) learning resources for the education of deaf children including:
• A PSL Digital Library and Visual Dictionary of 5,000 words/signs in 3 languages (PSL, Urdu, English)
• An interactive PSL DVD with signs for 5,000 words.
• Sign language books and/or printed matter such as flash cards (in PSL, Urdu and English)
• A PSL web portal – with search access to 5,000 words/signs (in PSL, Urdu and English)
• A PSL web based mobile phone application with 1,500 words/signs (in PSL, Urdu and English)

Each word/sign in the PSL Visual Dictionary contains the following:
1) A live actor signing the word (which will be performed by a student or teacher of one of FESF’s Deaf Reach School);
2) A color photograph or graphic/animation of the word;
3) The word written in Urdu;
4) The word written English;
5) an Urdu voice-over of the word;
6) An English voice-over of the word.


A PSL Digital Library and Visual Lexicon of 5,000 words/signs in 3 languages (PSL, Urdu, English)available on:

• An interactive PSL DVD with 5,000 words in 3 languages, and interactive PSL games
• A PSL web based mobile phone application with 5,000 words/signs in 3 languages (Android version)
• A book of 1,000 PSL signs,translated into the six main languages of Pakistan (English, Urdu, Sindhi, Punjabi, Pashto and Balochi)
• A PSL web portal(soon to be launched) – with 5,000 words in 3 languages, search access, downloadable files of all the materials and order forms for the materials.

Via the PSL Visual Library and Dictionary, outcomes in the 8 schools piloting the use of these resources have been:

• Improved access to literacy, particularly of deaf students, in grades 1 – 9
• Improved parents’ and teachers’ ability to communicate with the Deaf
• Increased access to literary resources for the Deaf

Publications and dissemination efforts

Outreach and awareness campaigns are a crucial aspect of this project, and one that will be undertaken on a regular basis for the next three years. Ensuring that the Deaf, their families, institutions for the handicapped, and other interested individuals are aware of the resources and have access to them is vital to this program resulting in the outcome we are striving for: that all deaf children will have the opportunity to acquire literacy and communication skills and thereby an opportunity to improve their quality of life.

Awareness of this project and the resources available are being advertised through (though not limited to) the following avenues:
• Flyers and word of mouth in the Deaf community countrywide
• Advertising on social media networks such as Facebook etc.
• Advertising on FESF web site
• The endorsement and promotion of the resources by the Minister of Special Education.
The Minister for Special Education, Sindh, Pakistan, Mr. Imtiaz Ahmad Shaikh is assisting FESF in networking with all schools for the Deaf and for Special needs children in Sindh province to enable the supplying of these resources to them. He will also endorse the PSL materials and introduce them and FESF to the ministers for Special Education in the other provinces.

Awards and distinctions

FESF has been granted the Special Consultative Status to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations. No awards but much recognition in the media. Please see below for a few examples. More can be found here:


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Project Representative

Richard Geary Horwitz

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