Snapchat releases new filters to help users learn ASL


Devika Subramaniam

Snapchat’s “Random Fingerspelling” lens teaches users to spell new words to familiarize themselves with the ASL Alphabet.

Social media companies have recently started to create apps, filters, and videos about American Sign Language (ASL). 

“I’m really glad that companies are trying to integrate more diverse users, and I feel like they made strides towards it. For example Tik Tok and Instagram have started using auto generated captions – which are not always accurate – but [people] have the option to change it,” said Vaishali Sukumar (‘23).

To celebrate the International week of the Deaf, Snapchat released three lenses and exclusive stickers to teach users the basics of fingerspelling in ASL. The lenses were created by SignAll, a company that  designs AI technology for sign language translation, education, and recognition to connect deaf people with the hearing world.

“As an ASL student we get educated on the history of deaf people, and they don’t have many colleges, institutions, or schools to help them with any communication,” said Kaitlin Hekl (‘23).

The idea of releasing a deaf filter was created by Jennica Pounds, a hard-of-hearing engineer who works in Snapchat’s Snap Lab. She revealed that this idea was made because of her son, who struggled to learn ASL. Pound realized that this could be a problem many deaf families were facing, hence she created a fun and creative way for people to learn ASL. 

“I think it’s cool that companies have their deaf employees to create creative things such as the Snapchat filter. I think one of the reasons deaf culture may not be recognized is because it’s very history based. Fun and creative ways definitely engage more people,” said Jack Bostaph (‘23).

The lenses use fingerspelling in three ways: “Randomizer Fingerspelling” teaches random words to fingerspell, “Random Words” allows users to recall what they had fingerspelled, and “Fingerspell Username” shows users to spell their own user names. All three filters can be found in the “Lens Explorer” section.

“The idea of giving people something fun to do while learning always helps.  It’s like the analogy of dangling a carrot.  We want to do something when it is fun or has a reward at the end.  It sounds like SnapChat might be checking both of those boxes,” said ASL teacher Shannon Heller.