Melissa Malzkuhn

Designing digital tools to give deaf children equal access to language, literacy, and expression

The Problem:

When deaf children are less exposed to sign language during critical periods of development, literacy can become a challenge, impacting cognitive growth and academic success. Language deprivation from a young age means many deaf adults still struggle with literacy, isolating them from families, communities, and job prospects. There is a large gap in sign language content, and there is limited training in producing content. Equal access to reading and expression is a core, and largely still unaddressed, human rights issue for the deaf community.

The Approach:

Malzkuhn is an activist, academic, artist, storyteller, app-maker, and entrepreneur who is leveraging the power of technology to overcome historical barriers around sign language learning and literacy. She founded and leads creative development at Motion Light Lab, at a Gallaudet University research center. The Lab uses creative literature and digital technology techniques to create immersive learning experiences—from storybook apps that have been translated into five international languages, to motion-capture projects that build signing avatars—all of which expand the 3D technology landscape for deaf children, visual learners, and more. Malzkuhn strives to build awareness and connections beyond the signing community. Her production company developed an app to teach American Sign Language to hearing people—and it was downloaded more than 1.5 million times. Third-generation Deaf, she has organized deaf youth for more than a decade, running international camps to nurture a global movement. Now, she collaborates with teams in many countries to spread her product-based approach to change.

My civic hero:

Mary Claveau Malzkuhn


Updates

At the second Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago on November 18-19, Melissa spoke on her work championing literacy in the deaf community, her family history with storytelling, and gave an introduction to American Sign Language.

We sat down with Melissa to learn more about her journey and her work at Motion Light Lab. Read the full story.

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