Written language is hard for deaf people to decode, because it is a representation of oral speech. Sueñaletras instead offers playful activities that associate written language with sign language. It also fosters the development of both written and sign language vocabulary and simplifies the categorization of concepts.
The software is innovative in design and method of instruction, supporting reading and writing acquisition through different stimuli: the native sign language of the child, the finger alphabet, lip-reading, written words, and images. One of the key characteristics of Sueñaletras is its flexibility: anybody familiar with the procedure can modify the program and adapt it to their specific subjects of interest, create new categories of concepts, or add new words. The design of Sueñaletras makes it easy to use in various contexts: in groups, individually, or in non-educational settings, such as at home.
There are versions for Chile, Mexico, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Spain, Argentina, Colombia and Catalunya, and versions are being developed for Ecuador and Panama. It has been downloaded approximately 30,000 times.
Individuals with hearing impairments have especially limited access to written language learning opportunities, because acquiring the reading-writing code involves learning a different language from the one they learn naturally: sign language. The bilingual educational model suggests that the most pertinent approach to this learning is to use the person's mother/native sign language as the primary communication source, and to try to acquire the written code through it, either simultaneously or subsequently.
The ability to read and write is key to human development and has an impact on health, quality of life, access to knowledge, and social participation. One reportedly effective method for teaching deaf people to read is to adopt the techniques developed by behavioral psychologists in what is termed "chaining", whereby the component parts of tasks that learners are not yet able to perform are broken down, introduced and taught using prompts and stimuli and rewarded, producing a response. The tasks (always using the same prompts) are repeated until the learner can perform them independently. Once a single task is mastered, it can be linked to others so that more complex tasks can be performed.
The underlying principle of the project lies in its innovative design and method of instruction that supports reading and writing acquisition through different stimuli: the native sign language of the child, the finger alphabet, lip-reading, written words, and images. The consistent and redundant repetition of the connection between these stimuli is termed "chaining", and has been reported to be innovative and effective for teaching deaf children to read and write.
In terms of the impact of the project, a joint report by Gallaudet University and the Inter-American Development Bank, along with testimonials regarding a pilot application of the program (2008) and a pre- and post-intervention assessment (2013), indicate that Sueñaletras promotes significant results in students' sign language and written vocabulary, finger-spelling and reading skills. In addition, it has a positive impact on learners' long-term attention.
In the coming years, new versions of Sueñaletras will continue to be developed, generating more workshops and e-learning programs to teach ways of using Sueñaletras and researching the impact in increasing vocabulary in Chile. In 2013, a 2.5 version of the software was developed, including more educational activities. The project plans to update the other 2.0 versions and develop an iPad and tablet version of the software.
Regarding the development of new versions, CEDETi has a system that translates the interface into languages other than Spanish, in order for the program to be available to a greater range of nationalities. CEDETi is currently in contact with other national and international institutions with a plan to develop agreements that generate new versions and projects that include the ideas mentioned above.