For someone who is deaf, communicating with a clerk at a retail store or non-ASL-speaking friend over dinner often involves laboriously writing notes. An app called Jeenie offers an alternative: Push a button, and a live ASL interpreter appears in a video call.
“It can be challenging to communicate in everyday life with people who are not fluent in ASL,” says Laura Yellin, a woman who is deaf who tested the app’s new ASL feature, which is launching now. “For example, dealing with an issue at the dry cleaners and needing to talk to a supervisor or manager can be tricky via paper and pen or typing on the phone back and forth. It makes it a lot easier to have an interpreter available for situations like that.”
The app previously offered live interpreters for some languages—hearing customers who need a translator who speaks Mandarin or Spanish, for example, can use Jeenie to pull up a video call with that translator while traveling. The founders realized that the deaf community didn’t have a similar option for everyday life. While it’s possible to text or make a three-way call using TRS—an old-school system that lets people who are deaf or hard of hearing type messages to an operator who can read them to a hearing person, and then type back the response, or a video relay service, which allows signing—there wasn’t a simple or affordable solution for in-person conversations.