How Huawei helped deaf children learn to read

Huawei created an app, StorySign, that used sign language to help children learn to read and helped boost perceptions of the brand.

Amid stiff competition in the smartphone market, Huawei wanted to bring its brand promise to ‘push the limits of what is humanly possible’ to life.

To do that, it challenged its agency FCB Inferno to come up with an idea that showcased its artificial intelligence (AI), improved brand perceptions and made the benefits of its technology more tangible.

The idea was to help the more than 32 million deaf children in the world to read. Using AI, Huawei built an app, called StorySign, that scans the words of selected children’s books and instantly translates them into sign language.

The app was so successful it won two awards at the Marketing Week Masters Awards  – the first for Brand Innovation and the second for Mobile and App Marketing. It was also highly commended in the Telecoms, Energy and Utilities category.

Deaf illiteracy is a global issue. Some 90% of deaf children have hearing parents, most of whom do not sign and therefore cannot share a bedtime story with their child.

A majority (57%) of deaf children fail to achieve basic school qualifications, while fewer than 40% of deaf adults are employed. The struggle to read because they cannot learn phonetically impacts the deaf population throughout their life.

Huawei and FCB Inferno believed if they could help children link words with signs it would help them learn to read and improve their opportunities in the future.

Executing the idea required the help of 11 international deaf charities to ensure the app would cater for deaf children’s needs. It was also tested with families and schools to ensure the experience worked for parents and children alike.

To use it, users have to select a children’s book and hold their smartphone with the app open over the words. The StorySign app then translates the words into sign language through an avatar, while words are highlighted in sign language so users can make the link between words and signs.

Starting out with a select number of books, the success of StorySign has led Huawei to donate £375,000 to deaf literacy projects, launch the app in China and sign a partnership with Penguin Random House to add its huge library of books to the app.

It has also helped to raise awareness of deaf literacy issues, with the campaign having a global reach of more than 1.5 billion (more than double its target of 604 million) and garnering more than 1,000 pieces of coverage (triple its target of 340).

The app has had more than 128 million film views, more than triple its target of 40 million, and generated an estimated £11.4m in earned media. It has also boosted Huawei’s brand perceptions.