The following blog post was written by Ellen Kampel, Public Relations Manager for Accessibility at Microsoft. Ellen holds a Masters in Social Work (MSW) and works on technology issues related to aging and people with disabilities.

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Today we will celebrate International Mother Language Day, a time dedicated to promoting native languages and the central role these languages play in preserving cultures around the world.

At Microsoft, we have embraced the spirit of the day by helping to uphold local languages and cultural identities through our Local Language Program (LLP), which embodies Microsoft’s commitment to languages around the world and has a potential reach in excess of 4.5 billion speakers through our technologies.

In Microsoft’s accessibility unit, we are celebrating American Sign Language (ASL) and its role in the lives of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. American Sign Language is an integral part of deaf culture, with its own syntax.

This year, a good reason to celebrate International Mother Language Day is the emergence of new technologies that help people who are deaf or nonverbal to communicate.  As we move toward a more connected and inclusive society, people who are deaf or hard of hearing can use a variety of technologies to communicate with people who do not know sign language. Today, for example, people can use something as simple as instant messaging.  And software such as iCommunicator translates speech to text, speech to video sign language, or sign language into a computer-generated voice.  Check out this video of iCommunicator in action.

New breakthroughs also are on the way. Microsoft Research Asia is collaborating with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Beijing Union University on a prototype that uses Kinect to translate sign language into spoken and written words and spoken words into sign in real time.

As we salute mother languages Friday and all year round, let’s also celebrate the accessible technologies that support American Sign Language and all languages.