Programming a more accessible world
By Deb Fox | Wycliffe Today Christmas 2023
John and Sharon Thomson are passionate about seeing God’s Word available to people in the languages they value most. After completing a PhD in Computer Science, John discovered that he could use his unique skills and expertise for God’s kingdom. He joined Wycliffe in 1985 and began writing code for SIL computer tools that support Bible translation. This included tools such as Bloom, HearThis, and WeSay that enable minority language speakers with any level of education to engage with language tools for themselves.
John has been one of the main developers for Bloom Editor – a free and open-source software program available to minority language communities to create new books in their language and translate existing ones. It also enables them to record an audio reading of the book and then publish the books in various print and digital forms.
The library already hosts 16,500 books in written format. John and Sharon are especially excited by hearing about how the Deaf community are using Bloom and finding it helpful. There are functions that enable the books to include audio narration for ‘Talking Books’, which is helpful for vision impaired readers. More recently, Bloom has made books accessible to Deaf audiences with the option to add sign language videos to create animated books. Currently, the library has 517 sign language books and 3019 talking books. John says that the technology Bloom provides for communities means that, with motivated teachers and eager learners, ‘people can hopefully begin moving from learning to read to reading to learn’.
John and Sharon were recently in Melbourne to reconnect with supporting churches. John also visited Papua New Guinea to consult with SIL’s ‘Education for Life’ team that has started a project in the East Sepik region to provide education for school children in digital formats they can easily understand, including Bloom’s Talking Books. John was exploring ways to enhance Bloom to make it easier for users to create interactive books where children can play language games on electronic pages.
Please pray for John and Sharon as they prepare to head back to their home in the United States. To stay in touch with the Thomsons, sign up to their newsletter at https://wycliffe.org.au/member/john-sharon/.
To experience a Talking Book, go to https://bloomlibrary.org/talking-books or visit https://bloomlibrary.org/sign-language to see how the sign language books are set up.