In times of COVID-19, it is very difficult for healthcare professionals to communicate with deaf patients. Sign language interpreters are often not allowed to enter hospitals and clinics, and face masks make lipreading impossible.

How does this tool help?

It allows healthcare professionals to translate sentences that are frequently used in the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 from Dutch into Sign Language of the Netherlands. Translations are displayed by means of videos and avatar animations.


We gratefully acknowledge funding from the Netherlands Organisation for Innovation in Healthcare (ZonMw) through the COVID-19 programme.


Important: caution required in the use of signing avatars
The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) and the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI) caution against the use of signing avatars as a replacement for human signers. The quality of signing avatars still lags far behind the quality of appropriately trained and qualified human sign language interpreters. Therefore, the avatar translations that our application provides should only be used if it is absolutely impossible to employ a human sign language interpreter, and a video translation is not available either. The full WFD/WASLI statement can be found here. The Dutch Association of the Deaf (Dovenschap) fully endorses this statement. This tool is therefore not meant to serve as a replacement for trained sign language interpreters, but as a back-up for situations in which an interpreter cannot be present. This also means that the range of sentences that our tool can translate is very limited.

Sign/Frame:   Gloss:   FPS:


Project coordination

Floris Roelofsen, University of Amsterdam
Anika Smeijers, Amsterdam Medical Centre

Avatar translation and web interface

Lyke Esselink, University of Amsterdam
Shani Mende-Gillings, University of Amsterdam
Floris Roelofsen, University of Amsterdam

Video translation

Wat Telt!
Max Vonk video productions


University of East Anglia

Our translation tool makes use of the JASinging avatar software developed by the Virtual Humans Group at the University of East Anglia.

We are especially grateful to John Glauert for providing a distribution of the software for our project.

University of Geneva

The Department of Translation Technology at the University of Geneva is developing a similar translation tool for Swiss-French Sign Language as part of the BabelDr project.

Bastien David of the Geneva group is helping us with encoding NGT signs in SiGML.


Enter your suggestion(s) for words or phrases or any other feedback you have here.

The Dutch Sign Language Centre offers an online video dictionary containing more than 16.000 signs in Sign Language of the Netherlands.

On the Wat Telt! website you can find a video with general advice for health care professional with deaf patients in times of COVID-19. Additionally, this video teaches you fifteen essential signs. Would you like to learn more about the target audience of deaf and hard of hearing people and how to best provide assistance to these people? Sign up for the two-day course providing assistance to deaf and hard of hearing patients at RINO! This course is taught by Dr. Anika Smeijers, Prof. Onno Crasborn and Roos Wattel.