Simply Amazing: Recent Tech Advances Benefit the Deaf

Less than a generation ago, technology was changing at a fast and furious pace. TV went from seven channels to hundreds with the arrival of cable, and a new computer was obsolete before you got it out of the box. In the last five years, not only has technology changed and advanced, but so has the culture of people who are using it. This is especially true in the deaf community, which is now reaping the benefits of faster computers and smaller processors.

Wireless TV Speakers

For many in the deaf community, sound amplification and background noise reduction means the difference between understanding something and losing it into a sea of babble. To address this issue, the deaf and hard-of-hearing equipment specialist Harris Communication has launched a line of personal wireless speakers that hang over the back of a chair and directs the sound waves to the listener. The speakers specifically emphasis the frequency range that is lost by most hearing-impaired people. When comparing TV service providers for the best sound features, make sure that the television has a 3.5 mm RF jack for the wireless unit to plug.

Translation Systems

Those who sign know how difficult it can be to connect with those who do not. In the last five years, there has been great strides made internationally in developing translation systems. In 2012, students at the University of Houston created a video device called MyVoice that captures sign language hand motions and translates them into English. Much like the new gaming consoles that track a player’s movement and convert it into screen play, MyVoice can read the gestures and translate them into spoken English. The system also works in reverse, translating the spoken word into sign language.

Bone Conducted Ultrasonics

At the 35th Annual International Conference of the IEEE, researchers introduced a new hearing aid for the profoundly deaf. The method uses ultrasound that is conducted through the bones of the user’s skull. Even if the person is neurosensory compromised—doesn’t have the nerve cells to transmit sound reception to the brain—the ultrasonic vibration will register as a sensation in the head. The hope is the person will learn to translate these sensations into receptive language.

Google Glass

In 2013, Google launched Glass with a huge media blitz and much speculation as to how the glasses will play out in popular culture. One thing that may have been missed is the practical application that Google Glass will have for the deaf community. Google is working on a patent that would convert speech to text for the wearer. Invented by Adrian Wong and Xiaoyu Miao, the application would also give the wearer a visual read-out of the direction the sound’s origin and the intensity of the sound. In other words, not only will it tell you what is being said, it will tell you if the person is yelling or whispering.

Contributed by Molly Tucker. Molly is a freelance writer, community activist and dedicated yogi living the dream in the Pacific Northwest.

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