In 2007 we conducted a study for one of the big four U.S. wireless providers. At the time, the company provided a service to callers who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, deaf-blind, or who have speech disabilities. The service, called Relay, connected standard telephone users via a Text Telephone (TTY), the Internet, a wireless device, or a videophone. The purpose of the research was to better understand user perceptions of relay providers and wireless service in the (at the time) growing industry.
From this research, we learned that although the TTY was a truly pioneering invention for the deaf/hh, services and devices that came later had much more of an impact on daily life, productivity, and communicating in general. When communicating via phone or internet there were methods that make speaking a lot easier, faster, and more efficient (text messaging, MMS, online video chat, etc). We also learned, importantly, it is not that the deaf want to be more like “normal”, hearing people, they just want the technology to catch up with their needs. For example, many were talking not only about wanting two-way video devices, but also holograms.
Fast forward three years… 8/16/10 cnet article on engineers testing sign language on cell phones.
We all know what it’s like to send a text message or e-mail whose tone is completely misinterpreted. A series of additional messages to better explain ourselves ensues and the efficiency of the original message is long gone.
That’s one reason engineers at the University of Washington are testing a tool called MobileASL that uses motion detection to identify American Sign Language and transmit images over U.S. cell networks. Sometimes, words alone just don’t cut it.
“Sometimes with texting, people will be confused about what it really means,” says Tong Song, a Chinese national who is studying at Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf in Washington, D.C., and participating in UW’s summer pilot test. “With the MobileASL, phone people can see each other eye to eye, face to face, and really have better understanding.”
We’re happy to learn that the deaf/hh are finally getting what they wished for over 3 years ago.
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