Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category New devices open communications for deaf: “New devices open communications for deaf

Associated Press
November 7, 2007

DeafTech.jpgFive years ago the staff at Ken Gan’s auto repair shop told him they needed to find a better way of communicating with customers who were deaf.

‘I said, let me go shopping — I’ll buy you whatever’s out there,’ said Gan, of Rochester, N.Y., which has a significant community of deaf people.

For three months, Gan came up empty-handed. There wasn’t anything in the market to facilitate face-to-face communication in a situation such as a shop or office.

So Gan hired some electrical engineers and a patent lawyer and came up with the Interpretype ( The small device with a keyboard and display hooks up to another Interpretype or a PC, allowing a hearing person and a deaf person to type messages to each other. It turned out to be such an improvement over passing scribbled notes that Gan gets up to 30 deaf customers a month, up from two to three per month before.

Enlarge Image
Kelly McNeill of Enterprise Rent-a-Car demonstrates a Interpretype device that is used to assist hearing impaired customers in Rochester, N.Y., Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2007. With roughly 1 percent to 2 percent of the U.S. population either deaf or hard of hearing, new technologies like Interpretype are coming into wider use in recent years, allowing deaf people to overcome many frustrations in simple commercial situations. (David Duprey/AP)

Gan started a business above the shop that has sold more than a thousand Interpretypes to schools, libraries, government offices and businesses. The basic setup starts at $995 (U.S.).

With roughly one per cent to two per cent of the U.S. population either deaf or hard of hearing, new technologies like Gan’s device are coming into wider use. They allow deaf people to overcome many frustrations in simple commercial situations such as asking: What’s wrong with my car?

Or if you want to rent a car. James Barons, manager an Enterprise Rent-a-Car branch in Rochester, said he’s seen interactions with deaf customers improve markedly after installing one of Gan’s text-exchange devices.

‘It made the whole transaction of renting a car a lot smoother,’ Barons said.

Other technologies are also making inroads in bridging the gap between hearing people and the deaf.

Jason Curry founded a company in Independence, Mo. with his father that makes a communications device similar to the Interpretype. The UbiDuo ( uses two portable units, connected by wireless technology. A pair, which can be folded together, starts at $1,995.

Curry has already sold hundreds since starting sales at the beginning of the year, and expects to sell several thousand next year. He said he’s talking with Starbucks Corp. about getting UbiDuos installed in coffee shops.

Curry, who is deaf, said that he was able to directly communicate with his wife’s family for the first time last Christmas by using one of the devices. Not having his wife interpret was a ‘life-changing experience’ for him, he said.

‘Deaf people have a lack of power to sit down across from a hearing person and have a conversation without a third party interpreting for them,’ Curry said through a sign language interpreter.

Another technology that has seen even greater growth in recent years is the video relay service (, which allows a deaf person to telephone a hearing person using a sign language interpreter. The interpreter and the deaf person communicate in sign language using a broadband video connection, while the interpreter speaks with the hearing person over a speakerphone.

Deaf people say video relay services mark a major improvement over the previous telephone method available, which involved an operator reading text that a deaf person would type into a device called a TTY — a technology more than 20 years old that exchanged basic text over phone lines using a modem.

Norman Williams, a senior research engineer at Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf and hard-of-hearing in Washington, D.C., uses a video phone every day for a variety of calls including talking to his kids’ teachers, arranging doctors’ visits or ordering pizza.

‘I can’t imagine living without it,’ Williams said in an interview using a video relay service. ‘Before we could use TTY, but that’s a really slow process. Right now I can sign, just like somebody is speaking, so it’s more like real-time conversation.’

Video relay services have only come into common use in the last three years or so, and usage is growing rapidly, having jumped from about one million minutes per month in August 2004 to about six million minutes in August of this year, according to the National Exchange Carrier Association.

Under U.S. law, phone companies are required to offer those and other telecommunications services for people with disabilities, funded by the charges at the bottom of your phone bill.

A number of deaf people, however, use other technologies that don’t require sign language. Jay Wyant, the incoming president of The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, said deaf and hard-of-hearing people were ‘among the first to be heavy users of e-mail and IM, and text messaging after that.’

Wyant, who has some hearing thanks to a cochlear implant, was communicating through yet another assistive technology — CART, or Communication Access Realtime Translation.

Wyant read text being typed online by an operator who was listening in on a conference call, and spoke his answers back. A web link allowed all parties to see the text of what was being said in real time.

Alan Hurwitz, dean of the National Technology Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology, said many assistive technologies have been a godsend to deaf people.

‘Any technology that allows me to communicate with hearing people instantly, without any barriers — that’s amazing to me,’ Hurwitz said in an interview through a video relay service.

But what really excites Hurwitz is a brand new technology already being used in Europe and Japan, but not yet in the United States, that allows deaf people to communicate with each other in sign language over cell phone cameras using real-time video.

It’s unclear when the necessary approvals and upgrades will come in for that technology. But ‘once it gets here, that will hands-down be the biggest impact’ on communications among the deaf, he said.”


One of the fun and special traditions enjoyed and shared by the Deaf Community is signing stories using Number or Alphabet hand shapes. In these stories, various hand shapes do not stand for the numbers and letters themselves, but are used as signs or gestures to convey concepts. They are signed in alphabetical or numerical order, and used in amazing ways to sign or act out a story. Video excerpt from American Sign Language for Families video series by Color of Language.

New Technology Transforming Life for the Deaf

Multi-function phones, webcams and other new technological innovations have transformed the lives of the hard of hearing, delegates at an international congress of the deaf said Tuesday.

“Technology is important for the deaf community. There’s the internet, internet, webcams, email, SMS and chat systems,” said Amparo Minguet, director of training at the institute for the deaf in the eastern city of Valencia.

Minguet finds her little multi-function phone a godsend and like other participants at the congress of the World Federation of the Deaf under way in Madrid, finds new technology a boon bolstering face-to-face communication at an event such as this.

Communicating via sign language, she points to her small flatscreen phone which she has placed on her knees after first activating the vibration mode.

“Thanks to that I can easily stay in touch through receiving texts and checking my voice mail,” Minguet reveals.

Minguet is in charge of the scientific side of events at the week-long congress, which has drawn some 2,500 people to the Spanish capital.

Her diary is crammed for the week and she manages to juggle her appointments thanks to the telephone’s in-built calendar as she prepares to meet people from all walks of life from across the world.

Using the phone where she can cuts down her fear of possible misinterpretations arising from differing sign language usage from one country to the next when it comes to face-to-face appointment-making.

The main aim of the congress, which is held every four years — the last one was in Montreal, Canada — is “to advance recognition of sign language in national legislations,” says co-organiser Ana Maria Vazquez, a university sign language specialist.

But at the same time the meeting is also an opportunity for deaf people to share their experiences and knowledge in the fields of education, culture, science and application of new technologies.

Telecoms companies are, meanwhile, showing increasing interest in the deaf persons’ market.

British operator Vodafone is one of some 30 companies and associations who have stands at the congress and are offering a range of special deals for the hard of hearing.

“Vodafone wants to be a company embracing everyone, including the handicapped,” explains Rosa Maria Martin on behalf of the firm which is Spain’s number two mobile operator.

The company is offering special deals for Blackberry wireless handheld devices made by the Canadian firm RIM (Research in Motion) whose “chat applications are perfectly adapted to deaf people’s communications needs,” a brochure explains.

David Hoareau has travelled 12,00 kilometres (8,000 miles) from the Indian Ocean island of Reunion to attend along with 20 students from a specialist centre for the deaf.

“Deaf people have a reputation for being isolated. This congress shows that, on the contrary, we are capable of coming out and sharing our experiences and communicating,” Hoareau said.

The raft of different versions of sign language across the world can make face-to-face communication difficult at such an international event, Hoareau admits, though the burgeoning technological aid helps in that direction.

“It’s difficult. But with a little perseverance, following facial expressions carefully and only expressing simple things, you end up being able to communicate with everyone as anyone addressing a congress would do by using basic English” as a catch-all language, he explains.