When John Miller became a teacher for deaf and hard of hearing children he saw a void. Often times, their communication would stop outside of the classroom because nobody shared their language. So, Miller decided to bring the classroom to the children's home using the internet
In 2009, Miller founded Signing Savvy , a video database of American sign language. The site now it contains over 7,000 words and phrases from American Sign Language, and continues to grow. Though Miller said the statistics are constantly changing, the website has around 250,000 registered members and receives up to 1 million hits a day.
Signing Savvy's website features videos with Miller himself, aka "The Guy in the Blue Shirt," acting out each of signs. In comparison to the static images from books of sign language education's past, these videos help teach the exact hand movements, as well as body and facial interaction, that are associated with a word. The website is used by educators, parents of deaf children, students, or anyone wanting to learn American Sign Language. The site allows members to build and share lists of words, create phrases and print images for posters, quizzes or flashcards.
Miller said the original purpose of the website was to help fill the gap between parents and their deaf or hard of hearing children. Over 90 percent of deaf children are born into hearing families, so Miller spent much of his time not only teaching students, but going to their homes and teaching their parents the language.
"It was very frustrating for me because I was seeing the communication and language would stop at at the end of the day, and stop over weekend, and stop over summer," he said. "They were sad children because they weren't able to communicate with their parents."
Miller has a Bachelors Degree in Deaf Education, a Masters in Early Childhood Education and was a teacher of deaf and hard of hearing children for 12 years in Michigan. While Signing Savvy is his main focus now, he still contributes to classroom education as an administrator and consultant for deaf education programs in Florida.
An experience with a deaf childhood neighbor was what spurred his interest for sign language, though. When Miller was a 12-year-old boy, his neighbor's 18-month-old daughter whom he babysat was unresponsive and uncommunicative. The girl's parents were going through a divorce, so in an effort to help the family out, Miller began to learn sign language. He would visit the library and study the images, immersing himself in a world he never knew as a person with hearing. Then, he began to teach the girl how to use her hands to communicate.
"It was a child that was wanting to communicate, and a family that didn't know how to, so I thought I would try," he said.
The girl began to learn the language, though Miller lost touch when the family moved. A serendipitous turn of events led that same girl into one of Miller's classrooms when he was a teacher as a young adult, he said. Their friendship was once again restored, and Miller even interpreted her wedding. It is children like this, and the many he has taught in the classroom, that continue to serve as inspiration for Miller.
"Watching a young deaf child discover they have a 'voice' for the first time as they create language through the air on their tiny little hands is truly an amazing thing!" he said, referring to a quote he posted on Signing Savvy's Facebook page.