Symbolic Universal Notation: A new way to reach the Deaf and Blind

By February 20, 2020

Int’l (MNN) – Today Wycliffe Associates dedicates the New Testament in a new language: Symbolic Universal Notation, or SUN.

SUN is a concept-based language Wycliffe Associates developed specifically for Deaf and Deaf and Blind communities. It has the potential to bring God’s Word to about 56 million Deaf people who cannot communicate in a local sign language.

Bruce Smith with Wycliffe Associates says, “We recently crossed the milestone of having the entire New Testament translated into this symbolic universal notation. Our team is now turning toward translating the Old Testament as well, but this is a great milestone. So, we’re going to celebrate that this coming week and help move it forward to Deaf and Deaf Blind communities around the world.”

Bringing the Gospel to Everyone

SUN was developed after Emely Wang, a volunteer with Wycliffe Associates, learned that almost 600,000 people in the world are both deaf and blind. She began to question how those people or other Deaf people who don’t know sign language learn about Christ.

The answer? Many simply do not. There are about 70 million Deaf people worldwide and around 80% of those people don’t know sign language. They are isolated and separated from educational systems, their communities, and the truth of the Gospel.

“They don’t even communicate using the community language,” Smith says. “And so, the challenge we faced a few years ago was how do you reach people who don’t even communicate in the local sign language?”

Smith continues, “And our team of hearing impaired and Deaf people actually came up with this approach, which we call symbolic universal notation. And it’s a way to convert the gestures of sign language into symbols on a page. Or, in the case of Deaf Blind, we print them using 3D printers so that they can be touched and felt in terms of the symbols and then understood.”

About a year and a half later, after much testing and a hard work, Wycliffe Associates completed the SUN New Testament.

Early Benefits

“We’re still at the very beginning stages, really having introduced this maybe to about a dozen different Deaf communities around the world so far,” Smith explains.

“But we’re very encouraged by it and those communities themselves are encouraged by it and are beginning to use it within their communities, to communicate effectively to the home sign groups and to the deaf blind, that have been beyond the reach of even their own community sign languages, so it’s a pretty exciting time.”

(SUN Symbols. Courtesy of Wycliffe Associates)

Smith tells about a recent training session in India with a group of eight Deaf adults. These individuals could only communicate with family through rudimentary gestures and sounds. They didn’t know the local language or how to communicate with other Deaf or hearing people. Understandably, they were shy.

Yet as the class continued, the atmosphere changed. Smith says, “These are adults, not just children, but people who’ve spent their entire lives unable to communicate with the people around them effectively. And within four days, we saw them learn the core 100 symbols of the symbolic universal notation. Within four days, they were able to read and begin to take in the meaning of John 3:16.”

Knowledge meant everything. Whereas four days earlier, they were hunched over in their seats, afraid of what was happening, now they had understanding.

“And by that point, they were showing up early for the classes. They were engaging with the with the deaf community, as well as the hearing community. And like I said, they were sitting up straight, they were leaning forward, they were smiling on their faces.”

What’s Next?

There is a lot to learn about SUN and how it can help Deaf and Deaf and Blind people, but the beginning experiments are promising. Deaf individuals have been able to learn the core 100 symbols of SUN in about four days, and Deaf and Blind individuals learned in about 16.

“That’s closer than they’ve ever been in their lives. Closer than we’ve ever been able to bring them and communicate with them. So, to me, that kind of proximity to the truth of Scripture is tremendously exciting.”

Smith encourages people to get involved with Wycliffe Associates’ work with SUN. Sign up for the newsletters. Join the translation team to help with the Old Testament translation. Pray for SUN to new impact communities. Pray that Wycliffe Associates would also effectively and accurately translate the Old Testament into SUN.

Learn more or join the team today by calling 1-800-THE-WORD or visiting



(Image courtesy of Eden, Janine, and Jim on Flickr

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