The History (HERstory) of Handspeak from dial-up to optic fibre

Jolanta Lapiak, 1995-2022


Pioneering Internet days

As the Internet technologies became standardized in the late 1980s and early 1990s, universities, schools, businesses, and some regular people began to connect over the Internet, before the World Wide Web was invented. This pre-Web Internet was entirely text-based world online.

My first computer Apple IIc
First computer, Apple IIc in 1984.

1984: When I was an immigrant freckled kid with very few things, I received my very first computer, Apple IIc, with my Deaf then-immigrant parents' hard-earned dollars for Christmas. A beautiful classic computer. One day, I looked at the computer, envisioning a network between the computer and all other computers via some kind of electrical wire. Not realizing, it had already existed through telephone.

Memories: Apple IIc, 5.25" floppy diskettes, no graphics, text only, text-based graphics, Highrise and Frogger games using the arrow keys.

1989: In my school, I was excited about an opportunity to correspond emails with my former schoolmate who attended Gallaudet thousands miles away from my high school via a dial-up phone modem.


Early Internet days

Memories at Gallaudet University from 1990 to 1994: LaPink, VAX, BBSes (1990s discussion forums), MUDs (text-based role-playing virtual reality), no Web yet.

In 1993, World Wide Web (WWW) launched in the public domain.

The birth of the website

In January 1995, I created my very first website (Mernix). Then, launched the website Deaf World Web on February 1st, 1995 in Stamford, Connecticut (home office) and New York City (private host).

early handspeak in 1997
March 1996 in Stamford, Connecticut.

Someone once fondly said of the 1990s web sites, "Everyone was a web designer." It was not unusual that everyone was a "webmaster" who changed their designs often. The cybserspace was a lawless frontier like the wild west.

early handspeak in 1997
"Deaf World Web" page in November 1996.

Fast forward to the 25th year in 2020, I didn't remember this! This is pretty a typical 1990s design style of the websites. I swear it wasn't this bad at the time. :D

Memories: Mosaic web browser, HTML, Netscape Navigator web browser with gray background and blue hyperlinks and purple visited links, GIF animation, guestbook, cgi-bin, my custom-made old computer with Windows 95 and boxy monitor, 3.5" disks, a dial-up via a ZyXEL 14.4Kbps modem, UNIX, PGP, the vintage 90s website designs (ha ha), and a typical view counter or odometer (ha ha, a common use of the 1990s), Windows 95, buzzwords like 'surfing the web', 'information superhighway'.

1996 memories: 56K modem (which would download a 1 GB file in about 3.5 days compared to about 30 seconds via cable in 2020), Internet service providers like America Online (AOL), Prodigy, Earthlink and CompuServe (although, my websites were running on a private host in New York when living in Connecticut), dial-up connection via phone line (meaning no one could use the phone when being online)...

early handspeak in 1997
The creator/owner of behind the scene in 1997.

The earliest/oldest ASL dictionary online

The Sign Language / ASL Dictonary Online section was developed in 1996 and launched in April 1997 on the formerly DWW website which was later evolved into

early handspeak in 1997
The oldest online sign language dictionary since 1997

Memories: short-lived Flash came on the scene that allowed video and audio into websites; CSS emerged.

early handspeak in 1997
DWW (Handspeak) in Dec. 1998.
early handspeak in 1997
The ASL Dictionary section at DWW (Handspeak) in Dec. 1998.

Videos were not yet available on the web. The early "video" was made of gif animation.

early handspeak in 1998
The creator/owner of behind the scene in 1998.
early handspeak in 1998
The creator/owner of behind the scene in 1998.

Memories: For many early web surfers, hitting the 100,000th or 1,000,000 was a "horray!" moment. Sometimes, they'd send an email of celebration to the websites' webmasters.

early handspeak (Deaf World Web) in 2000
DWW (Handspeak) in May 2000.


Renamed to Handspeak

The ASL dictionary Online bloomed into the HandSpeak in late April 2000.

early handspeak in July 2000
Handspeak (DWW) in July 2000.

Gif animation was the earliest image format used for ASL dictionary online here. Video was still not available on the web.

early ASL dictionary gif animation
GIF animation sample

Free- or Fee-based Subscription

2002: Considering the amount of endless volunteer hours, labour, and costs of the growing site for the first 6 years, the HandSpeak site began its subscription service as a paysite on August 6, 2002. It determined a favorable destiny rather than the future inevitable discontinuation or shutdown.

Two months after the fee-based subscription began, the web host was unexpectedly closed down in fall 2002. The HandSpeak site was immediately transferred to a new commercial hosting server. The paid subscription indeed had saved it. The website was later returned to a no-pay-subscription website with ads to cover the costs of the operation.


2004: Broadband internet became available and it cost less that more users signed up for it. Faster speed and better connection. This better speed would then allow video to enter the web. Dial-up began to become obsolete.

handspeak in 2010
A screenshot of the website in 2004.

From Static to Dynamic

In May 2005, Handspeak was transformed from a static site into a dynamic site.

handspeak in 2005
A screenshot of the website in 2004.

The Video-based Dictionary

In September 2007, all 160x120 gif-animation images were switched to 320px X 240px quicktime video.

Memories of 2008: video format shifted from quicktime to flash video for most accessible to most platforms, VPS, logo designed by myself.

handspeak in 2005
2008. Psst, look, my Nokia C3 phone.


New ASL video format

2010: All GIF-based images in the dictionary were replaced by the new video format (mp4).

Old site
A screenshot of the website in 2004.

Memories: Flat design trend, responsive web design (adaptable for all devices from desktop to mobile phone).

Memories of 2011: a project/documentation of the ASL language acquisition of baby Juli.

Memories 2018: SSL certificated installed.

Memories of 2019: Kibe the cat was adopted. Another cat Frizy in 2021. Kibe and Fritzy have been my constant companions through all years of my work on Handspeak.


COVID-19 / 25 Years Anniversary

Handspeak's 25 years anniversary from 1995 to 2020. Set up studios at "Handspeak House" after my retirement from ASL teaching to be a full time digital creative.

Memories of 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic. Switched from ADSL to fibre optic. 5G wireless router/Wifi. Finally switched my Nokia C3 for Moto G5 Plus (2018) after being one of the last earthlings to get a smartphone. Adopted a new computer (2018?) and a laptop (2019?).

Puget computer for handspeak
Old PC computer of (2010-2020, RIP 2022)

The PC computer (2010-2022), which was the admin interface of, finally retired (forced to be) in 2020 after 10 years of service. This old guy was transferred to my retired parents' home as their second computer use. It dropped dead in January 2022.

Screenshot of handspeak
Partial screenshot of (2021)

2021 memories: Membership/subscription reopened; PWA (web app), HTTP/2 and LiteSpeed, DirectAdmin, Core Web Vitals. Finally settled down on the color scheme after 25 years of millions of changes. Surface Duo II (now one of the first earthlings but still with an old phone plan with no data! Again one of the last earthlings.)

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