By Calliope S.

Mariella Satow is the Founder and CEO of SignUp Captions, a Google Chrome Extension that overlays sign language interpretation on streaming platforms. Originally, SignUp was created to be a tool for students of American Sign Language (ASL), but Mariella soon realized that it could benefit the Deaf community as well, especially children. Over the past year, SignUp has been featured by The Times, BBC, and Variety among other news platforms, and has plans to launch in other countries in 2022 and 2023.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, briefly explain what exactly SignUp is, and describe how and why you decided to create something like this?

My name is Mariella Satow, I am eighteen years old, and I am the Founder and CEO of SignUp. SignUp is a Google Chrome Extension, overlaying sign language interpretation on streaming platforms. SignUp was founded because many people from the Deaf community find written captions indescriptive, too fast, or even absent from media sites. A 2017 study showed that 80% of children who signed face challenges with reading – making written captions inaccessible.

How do you think your own experience with ASL has helped to shape the mission and purpose of SignUp?

I started learning sign language two years ago and started talking to people in the Deaf community. I learned more about Deaf culture and realized that closed captions do not work for everyone. Most people think that closed captioning represents the gold standard of accessibility. Children, especially, often have difficulty reading them. After a year of research, polling the Deaf community, and holding focus groups, I developed a Google Chrome extension to overlay a sign language interpreter on Disney+ movies. I could not have created SignUp without the help of the Deaf community I met during my time learning ASL.

Can you explain the process of ‘getting the ball rolling’ in terms of attracting attention to SignUp? Was there a specific publication or headline that you would consider a breakthrough?

I started the site with money that I made from walking dogs, but now we have a GoFundMe that provides funding to pay our 100 interpreters. I hired my first interpreter and technology developer from a freelancing website. Overnight, we had 15,000 hits to our website, and I woke up to an article in Yahoo! Finance, which was amazing. From there, SignUp had more and more organic press coverage, which has helped our growth immensely.

Do you have a favorite moment or memory from your time working on SignUp? A favorite interaction with one of your interpreters, maybe, or a really positive reaction from one of your consumers?

I love receiving any message that includes something along the lines of, “my kid understood their favorite movie for the first time.” I think it is amazing that SignUp is allowing kids to have full access to classic films. 

This testimonial, in particular, is one of my favorites:

I just wanted to send you a message and thank you for the amazing gift you’ve given my Deaf children. I have five kids, three hearing and two Deaf, and my Deaf kiddos always miss out on what’s going on for family movie nights. We surprised our 6-year-old daughter on her birthday with Zootopia with the interpreter, and her jaw dropped. I’m so impressed how you’re able to do this at 17, you’re going to change the world! Thank you for the wonderful gift you’ve given to D/HH children (and adults!)” – Dana S.

So far, SignUp is predominantly for kid’s movies. Are you thinking of expanding to movies for all age groups, or do you think your platform will always be mainly for children? In what ways do you next plan to expand SignUp?

This year (in 2022) we plan to launch in Canada, Australia, the UK, India, and Pakistan. It turns out that there are more than 300 types of sign language worldwide! We have launched on Disney+ and Netflix, and we are working on translating more movies on Hulu and Amazon Prime, and we have just signed a contract with PBS Kids. We are planning to provide more teen and grown-up content, as many of our users are adults.

What advice would you give to any budding entrepreneurs who might be interested in starting their own business or brand?

First, thinking about a community that you are a part of, or know a lot about is a great start. Then, researching the problems the community face and brainstorming something that could help them is a good way to think of a product or service that is needed or wanted. One of the best pieces of advice I received when formulating the idea of SignUp, was that ideas can be made a reality, even with a small budget. SignUp was started on a shoestring budget, and the app was not fully polished when it launched. If you have a good idea, just go for it!

For more information on Mariella and her work with SignUp, visit HERE.

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