JUNTO OHKI

Japan,

Junto Ohki uses information technology to promote full citizenship of the deaf community in Japan by developing on online database of signs, thus increasing access to basic services and removing barriers between global sign languages.

This profile below was prepared when Junto Ohki was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.

INTRODUCTION

Junto Ohki uses information technology to promote full citizenship of the deaf community in Japan by developing on online database of signs, thus increasing access to basic services and removing barriers between global sign languages.
Junto Ohki is the co-founder and president of ShuR Group, the company behind a technology that combines aspects of social media and social enterprise to create the first sign language dictionary in the world, called SLinto, a Wikipedia for signs.




THE NEW IDEA

Junto is the co-founder and president of ShuR Group, the company behind a technology that combines aspects of social media and social enterprise to create the first sign language dictionary in the world, called SLinto, a Wikipedia for signs. He is starting with 101 words but aspires to eventually include126 languages in the dictionary. Junto has developed a keyboard which has simplified how to look up a word or sign while making it possible to directly translate from one language’s sign to another. He has developed an online website which can capture the world’s 126 sign languages while providing links between the languages that never existed before.

This idea is systems-changing in the way that it facilitates the evolution of sign language while at the same time incorporating the deaf community it seeks to benefit as part of the decision-making process. Junto has created a crowd sourcing platform where deaf users can vote on the usage of certain words and based on the response; create a user-generated dictionary that standardizes Japanese sign language. This not only involves the deaf community and grants them direct responsibility in normalizing the language, it doubles as a data mining tool that allows interested parties to better understand the words that are commonly used by deaf people, specifically technical terms such as health, mechanical, or other specialized vernacular.

Junto not only wants to standardize Japanese sign language through his technology, but he hopes to provide efficient access to services and information that enable the deaf community as full participants in society. He is addressing the issue of access by providing new forms of entertainment, travel documentaries, emergency web-based translation services, and social services. 




THE PROBLEM

The deaf community in Japan does not experience full citizenship globally and has historically been marginalized. For 30 years, the Japanese government has endorsed lip reading over sign language for the deaf community. Now the government is playing ‘catch up’ in order to quickly solidify the language. This has resulted in the haphazard and inefficient formalization of sign language. In recent history, the Japanese government paid over 10 million dollars to identify 100 standardized signs.

While 50.2 percent of students in Japan go on to university, only 16 percent of the deaf community does. In 2008, deaf people still could not obtain a driver’s license, become a pilot, a pharmacist, or many other professions. In Congress, only one person is deaf compared to 14 blind politicians in the Japanese Congress. Additionally, the deaf community is more vulnerable from a health perspective without regular access to health care information and emergency services.

All of these issues tie into the lack of ownership of sign language by the deaf community. There are 126 different sign languages in the world without a mechanism to translate between them as there is no sign language-written language dictionary. This means deaf people who use Sign Language as their mother tongue have a difficult time learning the written language.

With this dictionary, deaf people can search for a word that they don't know in written language by Sign Language. It can help deaf people to better learn written language. This is further complicated by the fact that in one country there may be several signs for one word (in Japan there are 20 different signs for the word “egg”). Furthermore, if an individual is born deaf, their ability to form sentences varies quite largely from those that develop deafness at some point later in their life.




THE STRATEGY

Junto’s development of the dictionary for sign-language encompasses a number of facets that include not only design but functionality that mimics Wikipedia. Junto is capturing sign language in a dynamic way. The main ideal behind the SLinto dictionary is that deaf people can actively participate in shaping the content of it. People can take a video of sign language, upload it to the website, edit words, search for words, and evaluate and critique other user’s work. This is the world’s first cloud sourced, interactive Sign Language dictionary platform.

Junto’s travels to Korea inspired his development of the keyboard for sign language. He noticed there that different countries had keyboards that varied depending on the user’s language. It was at this moment that Junto recognized the importance of duplicating this idea for sign language users since prior to his creation there was no way for sign language users to type the language onto a keyboard. He made a keyboard which uses the “figure of finger” method, recognizing that the number of the finger is universal even if Sign Language is not. Junto uses these kinds of techniques to make a worldwide platform for Sign Language.

Junto has built a defined pipeline that will incorporate many more sign languages into his online dictionary. In 1 year, Junto will expand his service to 7 different Sign Languages: Japanese Sign Language (JSL), Korean Sign Language (KSL), Taiwanese Sign Language (TSL), Chinese Sign Language (CSL), American Sign Language (ASL), British Sign Language (BSL), and International Sign Language. Junto projects that in 1.5 years, 3 out of 7 dictionaries, JSL, KSL, and ASL will have more than 3,000 words and the other 4 will have 1000 words. He then hopes to launch 5 other Sign Languages on his program, Finnish Sign Language, Canadian Sign Language, New Zealand Sign Language, Australian Sign Language, and Kenyan Sign Language. In 2 years, Japanese, Korean, and American Sign Language will have 7,000+ words in their database and the other 4 languages will have 2000+ words with the hopes of launching another 15 Sign Languages. Junto plans on evolving the database to use another service such as auto interpretation or visual recognition. In 3 years, all 7 of the sign languages should have 10,000+ words and the other 20 Sign Languages should have 3000+ words.

Junto’s long term goal is that in 10 years, more information about Sign Language is on this site and that it will no longer function as just a dictionary but as a portal site for Deaf people to provide and obtain information and communicate all over the world.




THE PERSON

Junto was raised in a family who chose non-traditional careers. Junto’s father worked a normal day job for 6 months before he quit and taught semi-professional golf for ten years and then became a professional golfer. His mother is a piano teacher. Both of his parents are entirely self-taught and self-employed. One of Junto’s grandfathers was a Mahjong champion and the other produced uniforms.

Growing up, Junto learned what it meant to be discriminated against in a few ways. As a fifth grader, he stood up for his friend who was being bullied by his peers. As a consequence, the group (including the friend he stood up for) gave him the silent treatment for months. Finally, Junto reached out to the head of the group and broke the pattern. Junto was faced with this issue again as an exchange student in Livonia, Michigan. Initially, he was not openly welcomed by many of the students. On the soccer field he faced a lot of harassment. He was able to break this cycle again and ended up becoming quite popular. He was chosen as an honorary homecoming king even though exchange students were not allowed to be in the running for homecoming court. Even though Junto was able to break through these social barriers, it was during these early experiences of isolation that gave Junto tremendous empathy for the isolation experienced by the deaf community in Japan.

Though Junto is not deaf himself nor does he have anyone in his life that is, but he has built his organization around the deaf community. His initial interest in the deaf community was sparked in junior high when he viewed a program on TV about sign language. He fell in love with the art of sign language and how the intricacies of different gestures and hand movements could convey such meaning. At university, he started a sign language group on campus. He was contacted (based on his leadership of the university group) by a famous singer to sign for her during the annual holiday program. At the time, Junto did not know how to sign so he forced himself to learn in 6 months in order to be able to do this event. Junto noticed the strong support he was receiving from the deaf community for his skill at interpreting that he learned in just six months. It was at this point that he realized how little entertainment was accessible to the deaf community. Based on this demand, he started an Internet-based travel program. In order to find hosts for these travel programs he reached out to the deaf community in his neighborhood. These were Junto’s first encounters with a deaf people. While the TV program was Junto’s ultimate objective, Junto also learned the challenges of travel (and getting information) that deaf people face by traveling with a deaf neighbor to Kamakura. This led him to develop even bigger ideas.

Junto lives on very little money, buying onigiri (rice balls) at convenience stores after 8pm in order to purchase them half off. While he is very marketable in both the non-profit and business sectors, he has chosen to spend all of his time solely promoting his work.

During the Tohoku events of March 2011, Junto was active in online-based information sharing for the deaf community. Within six hours of the initial crisis, Junto had put together a website and was providing 24 hour translation services. While he initially thought that the users would be the deaf community within Tohoku, he found that his service was most critical for the Japanese deaf community from around Japan and even abroad that had limited access to information about what was going on. Junto’s foresights to engage, connect, and interact with the deaf community in Japan has transformed their livelihoods into being full economic citizens.




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