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Snapchat creates tool for users to start learning American Sign Language

The social media app is working to bridge the communication gap between the deaf and hearing communities with augmented reality lenses that help users learn ASL.

A team of deaf engineers known as the "Deafengers" has spearheaded a new Snapchat feature called ASL Alphabet that aims to bridge the divide between the deaf and hearing worlds by helping people learn American Sign Language.

As Hollywood celebrates "Coda," the Oscar-winning best picture that depicts the struggles of a mostly deaf family, Snapchat is working to eradicate some of the communication barriers portrayed in the film.

The new augmented reality-enabled Lens, which was released on Tuesday and made in partnership with the technology company SignAll, teaches you how to fingerspell your name and practice the ASL alphabet. It also has a game to track your progress and tell you what you are getting right and wrong.

The new ASL Alphabet Lens is essentially a more advanced and educational version of the three augmented reality Lenses made in partnership with SignAll that Snapchat debuted in September during the International Week of the Deaf.

Austin Vaday, 25, is one of the deaf engineers known as the "Deafengers" who helped develop the new Lens for Snapchat's 319 million users.

"We want the world to understand that sign language is important, and that everyone signing is important," Vaday told NBC News correspondent Erin McLaughlin on TODAY Tuesday through ASL interpreter Jonathan Webb.

There are approximately 48 million deaf and hard of hearing people in the United States, according to the National Association of the Deaf. Vaday was 3 years old when he began gradually losing his hearing.

He didn't learn ASL until he was 12, mainly relying on lip reading before ASL changed his life.

"I started interacting with individuals who are deaf and they were ASL users, and frankly, my world and my education just opened right up," he said. "It felt like all of a sudden the black and white changed into full color."

McLaughlin demonstrated on TODAY how to use the ASL Alphabet Lens to learn the ASL alphabet by learning to fingerspell.

Vaday sees it as a much-needed tool to help communication with the deaf community.

"It certainly can be challenging," Vaday said about using tech as a deaf person. "You may have a friend who says, 'Let’s go over and catch this show.' But where’s the interpreter? Where’s the accessibility?"

Vaday hopes this is just the beginning of bridging the communication gap between the deaf and hearing communities.

"Really, there’s a lot of potential," he said. "The sky’s the limit."

"This is a huge step forward," Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, said through Webb on TODAY.

"It makes technology more accessible. And I hope that this sends a message to other tech companies. There is such a rich opportunity right in front of them to incorporate American Sign Language in a variety of ways."