During the COVID-19 lockdowns, many people spent their time baking bread or watching Netflix. Others, like 17-year-old Mariella Satow, spent their time changing the world!
Mariella has dual citizenship between the U.S. and the U.K. At the start of the pandemic, she happened to be in New York, and she couldn’t leave due to travel restrictions. Getting up at the crack of dawn to go to online school back in England meant she had a lot of free time in the afternoons, so she decided to learn American Sign Language.
ASL is one of 300 sign languages used around the world. The teen thought seeing an ASL interpreter in action might help her learn faster, but when she looked up movies and TV shows on streaming platforms, she discovered they didn’t use ASL interpreters. They may offer closed captioning or audio description, but no ASL. Mariella decided then and there to change that fact!
She created an app that uses a simple Google Chrome extension. It adds an ASL interpreter to the corner of movies so people who are deaf or partially deaf can watch both at the same time. The teen decided to focus her efforts first on the Disney+ platform because that’s what she believes children watch the most.
“Me and my sister were avid movie watchers when we were younger, and I couldn’t imagine that not being a part of our childhood,” Mariella said.
Creating the SignUp app took her about a year to complete. She sought help from ASL teachers and the deaf community along the way, producing a sleek app that is already making kids and parents very happy.
Dad Jarod Mills said the SignUp app has changed the way his deaf 8-year-old son Toby experiences movies. “Seeing my son be able to sit and understand the movie and see things he’s not seen before in eight years, it’s amazing,” he said. “We have captions but they don’t really do anything for him because it goes quite fast. He would just watch and not get much from it.”
Jarod added that the app “creates a level playing field” for kids like his son. He continued, “Kids are getting that understanding and information like any hearing child does — they learn a language even before they go to school.”
In the app’s early days, Mariella used only money she earned while walking dogs to fund the project. Now, as the project grows and she needs to hire more ASL interpreters, advertise, and rework the app to function on platforms like Netflix, she has created a GoFundMe to launch the SignUp app to the next level.
“I can’t believe how big it’s become,” she said. “I had no idea what I was launching into the universe.”
Mariella plans to expand the app to include as many of the international sign languages as possible. She dreams of making all TV shows and movies “more accessible” for the deaf community, and seeing the fruits of her labor makes all those early mornings worthwhile.
“The most meaningful comments are when it’s the first time a child has had full access to a movie,” she said. “The numbers don’t really matter, it’s the messages.”
This has to be the best use of quarantine time we’ve heard to date! Mariella is one talented teen, and we’re grateful to her for seeing a need and filling it.
Share this story to help her expand SignUp even more.
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