Henry Ford College (HFC) student Sabit Islam is part of a team that is designing an app called SignScribe, which will help bridge the communications gap between American Sign Language (ASL) users and spoken word users.
“One of my teammates on this project works at an Apple retail store. He has encountered customers who are either deaf or hard of hearing and would have to use a third-party interpreter over Facetime to translate what they are communicating in ASL,” explained Islam. “That’s not always feasible. We have the ability to make communication more easily accessible. We wanted to conform to ASL methods of communication rather than requiring ASL users to conform to ours.”
The camera on your cell phone will be an essential tool for the SignScribe app. The ASL user will login using sign language. The phone will then transcribe the conversation, opening up the lines of communication.
“My teammates are very talented,” said Islam. “I’m impressed with what we’ve accomplished so far.”
Islam and his teammates are members of the second cohort attending the Apple Academy, which is the first of its kind in the United States. After completion of the first year of their apprenticeship program, they will work directly with their client, the Michigan State University Community Music School-Detroit, and bring SignScribe to market.
“This is a very difficult project, which is why it has not yet been created,” he explained. “The technology required for such specific detection of hand movements is still in its infancy and has a long way to go before it is able to do what we need it to. The most challenging part about creating our application is trying to create models that are able to accurately differentiate between similar signs. This could cause much of a conversation to get lost in translation.”
A lifelong Woodhaven resident, Islam is the fourth of six children. Two of his older siblings, Sajid and Shaon, are HFC alumni. Islam graduated from Woodhaven High School. After graduation, he enrolled at HFC. He will graduate from the College, earning his associate degree in liberal arts later this year. He then plans to transfer to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and work toward his bachelor’s degree in computer science.
“I always got good grades in school, but my grades suffered during the pandemic,” said Islam. “That’s why I came to HFC. It is close to home and has allowed me to refocus and get myself back into the high academic standing I knew I could reach.”
Sabit’s GPA is nearly perfect: 3.97. He has maintained this high GPA while interning at the Apple Academy and working at the 7-Eleven in Trenton, which is owned by his parents.
“I liked the transition into higher ed at HFC,” said Islam. “It offers smaller class sizes and easily accessible help when I need it. The professors have been great and I’ve learned a lot. Coming from COVID-19 with my grades taking a hit, rebuilding myself as a student at HFC has boosted my confidence in an academic setting.”
Math instructor Christian Frank had Islam in his Calculus II class during the Winter 2023 semester. He called Islam a “phenomenal student.”
“Sabit put lot of effort into the class and contributed good dialogue and questions during my lectures,” said Frank. “I appreciate that he would take guesses sometimes even when he didn’t have the answer yet, and I felt comfortable ribbing him occasionally because I was confident he would take it well. That makes the whole class feel more lively, and other students start feeling comfortable chiming in too. He did a lot to make my job easier beyond just being good at his schoolwork. I wish the best for him.”
HFC alumnus Justin Villanueva, the Transfer Recruiting Coordinator for the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA), first met Islam in the summer of 2022 and has had many opportunities to work with him since.
“From the beginning, I have seen Sabit’s dedication to doing well at HFC, as well as preparing to transfer to a university after finishing his associate degree. Sabit joined the Transfer Bridges to the Humanities (TB2H) program at the end of the Fall 2022 semester and has maximized his opportunities both at HFC and through the transfer program,” said Villanueva. “He aspires to transfer to U-M after HFC. I have no doubt he will be successful no matter where he chooses to pursue his bachelor’s degree. Sabit is an example to other students that through hard work, having support from an amazing institution such as HFC, and having the willingness and courage to pursue their aspirations, they can reach for their highest goals and achieve them.”
Islam spoke about what inspired him to study computer science.
“Growing up, I was always interested in the medical field,” he recalled. “Then I realized I wanted a new medium for me to express my creative side. Computer science is all about problem-solving and allows me to build solutions for any idea I may have.”
As of now, his main focus is perfecting SignScribe.
“This is a learning tool that will make us employable in this market,” said Islam. “We are working on this application because we realize how revolutionary it can be and how it can impact people’s lives.”
Islam said he feels blessed by the overwhelming support his team has received for this app, including from HFC President Russell Kavalhuna.
“At HFC, we have the honor of serving tomorrow’s leaders who are – while students – already solving today’s problems like Sabit. This young man is amazing. I am proud to be associated with him. For the last 10 months, he’s been at the Apple Academy learning how to code,” said Kavalhuna. “I was overjoyed to be with him as he showed me the app that will translate ASL in real time, so that users can communicate across hearing and other communication barriers. This is student success at our College and beyond.”
Islam is taking his growing success in stride and with gratitude.
“I appreciate the president’s support and encouragement. He has really cheered us on,” said Islam. “Everyone realizes how much of an impact this app could have. This also raises our expectations in what we want to deliver as a product, but we believe what we deliver will do a lot of good for the world and make communication more accessible for the deaf community.”