Sarah Snow during a visit to the California School for the Deaf. Sarah Snow during a visit to the California School for the Deaf. Sarah Snow during a visit to the California School for the Deaf. (Photo: Courtesy Glide)

App for the masses finds niche among the deaf

Find out why a video messaging startup has joined the ranks of Microsoft and Google.

We've all heard the hit song "Let it Go" from the Disney movie "Frozen" enough times to, well, let it go. So when film director Jules Dameron decided to make her own music video of the now ubiquitous song, the bar was set high for coming up with a unique rendition.

So how was Dameron's music video different? It was sung in American Sign Language, and used an entirely deaf cast and crew.

And for Dameron, who herself is deaf, communicating with that many people on set was made simpler thanks to a video messaging app called Glide.

"I instantly fell in love with it," the Hollywood-based director told From The Grapevine. "For once, I felt like I could function, and fully express myself through communications with everyone that I used sign language with. I just adored the fact I didn't have to rely on English text anymore. American Sign Language is a completely different language with its own set of grammar, rules and structure, and for me to discover a social medium to express just that, as opposed to English, meant the world to me."

Dameron is not alone. Show people in the deaf community the Glide app, and they're instantly hooked. But surprisingly, it was not intended to be the "WhatsApp for the hearing impaired." The app was created by three friends from the U.S. who all moved to Israel and were looking for an easy way to stay in touch with family back home.

Unlike Skype or FaceTime, which requires both people to be online at the same time to video chat, Glide is different. Think of it more like a text message but with video – send a message whenever you want, and the receiver can watch it live, or later at their leisure. Glide allows for group chats, and videos are stored in the cloud so they don't take up space on your phone.

To say the app has found a following would be an understatement. There are now 20 million registered users. Millions of messages are being sent daily, with the average user sending upwards of 15 messages a day. Since Glide's launch less than three years ago, more than a billion messages have been sent on the platform.

And then the deaf community discovered the app.

"It was really a happy accident," Sarah Snow, who works at Glide's Jerusalem headquarters, told From The Grapevine. Snow is the company's community manager and, while interacting with users, discovered that many deaf people were enjoying the app. Snow was eager to learn more, and found someone to teach her sign language. After a few lessons, she started making sign language videos for Glide's deaf community.

Snow has evolved into Glide's brand ambassador, visiting schools for the deaf in Texas, California and Washington, D.C. "I had no idea what to expect," she recalls of her early visits. But she had nothing to worry about. Snow has become somewhat of a celebrity. (Anyone who signs up for Glide gets an instant welcome message from her.) At the events, people stood in line for hours to meet her and pose for selfies.

Glide's quick response to its new user base hasn't gone unnoticed. Last month, TDI (formally known as Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc.) bestowed its prestigious Andrew Saks Engineering Award to Glide. The prize has only been given to two other companies – Microsoft and Google.

September is Deaf Awareness Month, and Glide is making a push for even greater penetration into the deaf community with plans for upcoming events in Chicago and Atlanta. Says Snow: "I'm excited to see what we do next."

The Texas School for the Deaf was eagerly anticipating a visit from Sara Snow earlier this year.The Texas School for the Deaf was eagerly anticipating a visit from Sarah Snow earlier this year. (Photo: Courtesy Glide)

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App for the masses finds niche among the deaf
Find out why a video messaging startup has joined the ranks of Microsoft and Google.