Thursday, December 27, 2018

Sign Language and Social Media

Social Media is a really great thing for Sign Language. We can see live action signing videos, we can share information about services, programs, apps for people with disabilities. We can create greater acceptance of those that are different by highlighting and embracing those differences. We can change attitudes by showcasing the immense value of ALL individuals. We can see things that make us smile, laugh and think. We can connect with strangers and friends. We can learn to communicate in a whole new way, a visual way...Sign Language. Social Media opens us up to new ideas, new people, new opportunities to new ways to connect with others. The beauty of Sign Language can not be expressed, viewed and appreciated from a book but it can be on Social Media We are physical creatures and Sign Language allows us to express ourselves with our whole self. What do you think? How has Social Media effected your communication skills? Read more here:

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

My List of 10 Organizations to be Grateful for...

Thanksgiving has come and gone but the season for giving thanks is still here. Many of us have a lot to be thankful for, while others could use help. For instance: the fire victims, individuals with health problems, homeless folks, and people without jobs, young and old with physical and/or mental challenges, children who are hungry, scientists working on environmental concerns and cures for diseases, animal welfare groups and organizations focused on worldwide well-being and literacy. I love this time of year because it is a time to be grateful, a time to reflect and a time to look forward. Wondering how can I make the world better is one of my daily prayers. It is something we might all want to think about- what can each one of us do to make this planet a kinder, cleaner, healthier, more peaceful and accepting place?
I know some amazing people who have made a real difference by founding/working and/or supporting small but exceptional nonprofit organizations and one ministry. If you are interested, take a look.
An organization with a focus on showcasing the beauty of all people through the visual arts.
A charity dedicated to the rescue of dogs and cats from high-kill shelters in Georgia.
Created to provide an inclusive supportive environment for individuals with developmental and learning challenges by giving them the opportunity to participate in sports & recreational activities.
A ministry focused on providing for the basic and spiritual needs of the homeless population in Santa Rosa, CA.
A legal non-profit protecting the rights of foster children in California.
Creating significant social change by connecting nonprofits with volunteers.
The North Valley Community Relief Fund was created to help the fire victims in Northern California immediately and in the recovery period.
A loving environment providing therapeutic riding to individuals with disabilities by living a “life without barriers".
Dedicated to significantly improving the lives of individuals with Down syndrome.
Creating reading & sign language software for all learners with a focus on Inclusion.
There are so many worthwhile charities out there, make your own list, volunteer, give, just do what you can. Tis the season!

by Valerie Carter

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A Day for Celebrating our Differences!

There is only one day a year when we can be anyone or anything we want. Halloween! It is a day, not to be scared but to be enlightened. It is a day to become someone new, to dress in something unusual, to change into a rainbow, a unicorn, a superhero or an angel. The possibilities are as limitless as we are. We are all full of options and possibilities, with so many layers to us. Each one of us is uniquely different. On Halloween, we joyfully embrace our differences! Don’t you wish we could celebrate our diversity for the rest of the year as well? There is so much intolerance for each other, we don’t seem to accept our different ethnicities, our different colors, our different religions, our elderly, our disabled, our neighbors or our enemies. But imagine if we could. Wouldn’t it be spectacular if we could develop a kaleidoscope perspective… and see and accept the multi-faceted, always evolving incredible individuals that we all are!

By Valerie Carter

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Girl Behind the Camera

Heather Reilly loves taking pictures, still pictures, moving pictures, any kind of pictures. She is not only a photographer but videographer and an editor as well. And she is also extremely talented. This past spring she volunteered to help GraceSigns through the TapRoot Foundation (a service organization providing pro-bono workers to non profits). She was gracious enough to answer some questions about herself.
How did you come to working in film/editing?"I have worked as a television and video producer for a number of years and have always enjoyed working with editors and the editing process. I have edited my own video projects and a few videos for nonprofits. A couple years ago I completed a certificate program in motion graphics."When did you begin your career?"After I graduated from college I interned on a Ken Burns documentary. That experience led to work on other historical documentaries and non-fiction television projects." What can you tell the reader about yourself and your business?"I love a good story, and I find that video is a great medium for entertaining and educating. My work includes nationally broadcast series for public television, video content for global and local nonprofits and museum exhibitions. Past projects have included historical documentaries, profiles of women leaders from around the world, American pop music legends, science fiction, global development and public health. Currently I work at UC Berkeley as a media specialist for the History of Art Department."What prompted you to offer your services to GraceSigns through TapRoot Foundation? "I am always looking for projects that will help sharpen my technical skills so I signed up as a TapRoot volunteer. I was interested in creating content for an app and the GraceSigns project sounded like it would be fun to work on... it was!"Did you enjoy the experience of working on the Sign Me ABCs app project with GraceSigns?"I did enjoy working on the app project, I still find myself humming the ABC song." Were you pleased with the end result?"Yes!"
Note: To contact Heather Reilly:'s promo Sign Me ABCs video for the App Store can be viewed here: a big thanks to the folks at TapRoot Foundation for connecting us with exceptional talent like Heather. We wouldn't be operational without their help.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

What is Diversity?

Diversity means Inclusion. Or so I thought. I looked up DIVERSITY in the dictionary, well actually I looked online on and found this definition: “Diversity: 1. The state of fact of being diverse; difference; unlikeness: diversity of opinion. 2. Variety; multiformity. 2. The inclusion of individuals representing more than one national origin, color, religion, socioeconomic stratum, sexual orientation, etc.: diversity in the workplace. 4. A point of difference.
Okay, that sounds good. However, which unnamed group is “etc.” suppose to symbolize?
I am going to assume that the etc. in the above definition is meant to represent everyone else (perhaps that is where we will put people with disabilities). According to the World Bank Organization, “One billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability.” That is a substantial group and they deserve to be recognized. When we talk about Diversity, let’s actually see individuals with disabilities - represented in our workplaces, in our schools and in the media. Let’s be inclusive.
GraceSigns has a mission of creating sign language and reading applications that bridge communication gaps but just as importantly we include children with disAbilities in our apps, social media and marketing. We believe in Diversity AND Inclusion.
What does Diversity mean to you?

Friday, August 24, 2018

For the Love of Language

I have been in love with words for as long as I can remember.  With three older siblings, I was anxious to join in on the conversation.  As a toddler, I was just as eager to start reading, I would spend many a long rainy day with my Dr. Seuss books, enjoying the silly pictures as much as the silly words. As a very young want-a-be writer, I would create little stories and my mother would lovingly type them up for me.  Later as a teenager, I would type up my own stories, and in between spend seemingly infinite (or so my dad said) hours having endless conversations on the phone with my friends. We never tired of talking.  Talking, reading and writing were my passions. As a college student, I naturally became an English Major, which gave me an opportunity to read more, write more and do some public speaking as well (more talking).  As a young adult, I traveled to Italy and although I had limited Italian fluency, I adored the country and people but was extremely frustrated by my inability to express myself clearly.  I simply did not know all the correct adjectives and adverbs, nor did I have any kind of mastery of Italian verb conjugation.  It didn’t stop me from trying but it foretold a frustration that was coming in the future.

When my daughter Grace was born with Down syndrome, I never allowed the diagnosis to limit my expectations of her.  As time went by though, Grace was also diagnosed with Childhood Apraxia, a speech disorder that makes it difficult for children to speak. Children, like Grace can understand a great deal more than they can verbalize.  By the time Grace was in elementary school, even with the support of a variety of speech therapists, she and I were still unable to communicate the way we both would have liked.  It was at this time that we learned sign language together.  When it came to signing, we always integrated it with the spoken word and in this way, we were finally able to have conversations!  I wanted to share with others what we had learned and how it had transformed us.  In 2012, I founded GraceSigns, an educational technology company creating reading and sign language apps for mobile learning.  In 2015 we converted to a non profit organization and have since launched two successful apps: Sign Me A Story (Yes, I took my love of reading and writing and added video signs!) and Sign Me ABCs (teaching the alphabet in sign language with animals, music and games). We have been very lucky to get a lot of wonderful publicity, unbelievable volunteers from all over the world and lots of community support.  Our organization was just recently awarded an impressive grant from the Global Down Syndrome Foundation to create a third app: Sign Me A Sentence.  Our mission continues to be about teaching sign language but just as importantly, GraceSigns is focused on INCLUSION, our sign language demonstrators, our content and our social media presence include differently-abled children, children who just want to be seen, heard and understood.

Did I become the writer that I had envisioned for myself as a child? No. God had another plan. Instead, He took me on an amazing journey, an adventure as incredible and interesting as life itself.

By Valerie Carter

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Art of Sign Language

Meet David Garner.  Artist. Extraordinarily talented, creative and endowed with a huge heart. David has been working for thirty years as both a designer and an illustrator.  He works almost exclusively with not-for-profit organizations. While online he found the TapRoot Foundation website.  TapRoot is a service company that matches non profits in need of workers with willing and talented volunteers.
GraceSigns, a small educational technology organization had posted a job request for an artist.  David was intrigued.  GraceSigns needed someone to draw characters and  animals. The catch: it involved sign language.  David knew nothing about signing but thought it was a perfect opportunity to do an illustration project that sounded fun and challenging.  The process was challenging, but it was indeed fun and he enjoyed the fact that the art was geared toward children. Having worked on children's books, marketing campaigns and a variety of other projects, this was David's first foray into the app business and he was excited to enter this new medium. David enjoyed learning the signs, as he had to draw the cartoon characters signing the 26 letters of the alphabet.  Being naturally whimsical in his work, David brought a bright colorful element to each illustration, especially to the amazing animal artwork. Sign Me ABCs is the end result and David is pleased to have been a partner in creating something that will help kids and adults learn sign language in a happy and inclusive format.  "GraceSigns apps are geared to accepting the differences of all of us.  It has been a rewarding ride, and I am proud to have been part of it."

Artist David Garner

TapRoot Foundation

Blog by Valerie Carter

Friday, June 1, 2018

Signing with Maggie

Maggie’s little blonde curls framed her face as she gave me the “look” that she did NOT want to play with my toys.  At two and a half, she worked hard each session to speak, carefully imitating my words, but when she wanted to say something on her own, it was hard for her to come up with the words. Her sparkling eyes showed me she’d had enough of my adult-directed session. It was time for her to call the shots. 

As a speech-language pathologist, many have asked me if using screens was detrimental to their child’s health.  I’m sure passively watching YouTube videos and clicking between children’s movies is not advisable but using apps as teaching tools with adult support is entirely different. Sometimes when children are struggling to learn, using the iPad as a teaching tool expedites their learning.  

After already spending the bulk of the session with more traditional teaching strategies, I opened the new Sign Me ABCs app. Maggie eagerly looked at the iPad, excited to have access. I showed her the first animal- Alligator- and she immediately copied the sign and tried to say the word!  She was so proud and smiled from ear to ear. We went on to the next animal-Bear- and she imitated the word and action for that, too!  On and on she went until she had imitated all of the signs and words for the animals A-to-Z.  Just when I thought we were done with the session, Maggie practiced repeating 26 words and their signs! Maggie’s engagement with Sign Me ABCs showed me that signing is another tool we can use to support her development.  Maggie is happy, and so am I, helping her learn!

by Guest Blogger
Laura O’Grady
CA License: SP 14483
ASHA: 12029427
CSHA: 20673-1

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Music as a Language Bridge

Music as a Language Bridge

Music is a universal experience, and a 'language of the emotions' that can communicate all shades of feelings, thoughts, dreams, etc. 
These are the very same emotions and feeling that are sometimes difficult to verbalize.
For those with limited or no verbal language, the strategic use of Music
can be the bridge between someone's inner world, and the voice of expression to others.

"Isn't that what we all want?  To be heard, and understood?" (Seal)
Music is also an extraordinary language bridge across cultural and language differences.  Using facial expressions, a phrase book or a communication device, body language and of course sign language all work, but there is something globally primal about music that draws individuals together and breaks down differences. It is the one universal thing that does not need to be translated to be understood...such is the miracle of music.

"Music is one of the most powerful things that the world has to offer.  No matter what race or religion or nationality or sexual orientation or gender that your are, it has the power to unite us." (Lady Gaga)
by Guest Blogger,

Lizz Domash, RMT, MCAT.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Love, a Universal Language

Love, a Universal Language

When you think about Love, you think about being able to communicate and deeply connect with someone.  If you have seen the enchanting new movie, The Shape Of Water, you will understand how love can be blind, it can be deaf and it can be totally without reason.  But what this movie stresses is that if on some level you are able to communicate with... a person, an animal, a creature... then that is something significant, irregardless of who or what they are. We as beings all need those connections.  In the movie, the character Elisa is mute and signs exclusively; she is able to build a relationship with the sea creature using sign language, facial expressions and her body language.  It is incredibly moving because without the spoken word, so much can be said.  Sign Language gives us that gateway into the unspoken, the ability to use our whole person to express ourselves, using everything including our faces, and our hands to convey our emotions.  

When I think about LOVE, I also think about the "Night To Shine."  Created by the Tim Tebow Foundation - it is an international "Night to Shine" prom for special needs teens.  Last year, 375 host churches within 50 states, 11 countries and 28 denominations participated.  Individuals were treated to shoe shines, hair and makeup, dinner, limo ride, a walk on the red carpet and a night to remember.  This photo above was Grace and her date Tyler at last year's event.  Their faces say everything.  What is great about this picture is that they were explicitly communicating with each other without saying a single word.  The language of love is powerful and truly miraculous.  We can learn a lot about love and communication from those who are often speechless.  

by Valerie R. Carter 
Executive Director, GraceSigns

Night to Shine Foundation Link: