Both Virtual and Augmented Reality are becoming more and more popular in today’s society. But for what purpose? The expansion of these technologies is being idolised for all the wrong reasons; they are being incorporated into mobile applications and video games for people to enjoy and have fun with. I believe that we should use these technologies to our advantages and therefore I wish to create a pair of smart-glasses that will act as an assistive device for those with hearing difficulties.
The smart-glasses will incorporate Augmented Reality. The AR function enables the user to see a visual of a human being (man or woman) performing sign language superimposed in the real world. The microphones built into the frame of the glasses allow spoken dialogue to be recorded, the software inside the glasses will read the recorded audio and quickly translate it into British Sign Language. (To begin with, the only language available on this device will be BSL, however there will be room to develop the glasses so that alternative languages, such as ASL, can be added.)
Some may argue that one of the biggest difficulties of being deaf is that people of the hearing culture treat deaf people as if they are handicapped, people to be pitied or changed. Therefore, the design of the product will look like an ordinary pair of glasses. The main reason for this is to prevent discrimination from people of the hearing culture. However, this design will have further benefits, such as being comfortable and stylish.
It is apparent that a fairly large percentage of people who are deaf (especially those deaf from birth) would opt out of the hearing world altogether – no matter what technologies were offered. These smart-glasses are not a solution for curing deafness, they are a device which can help those with hearing difficulties to overcome issues that occur naturally as a consequent of hearing loss. The smart-glasses will hopefully be beneficial to those who cannot or struggle to lip read. The smart-glasses will also enable users to become more aware of surrounding conversations and may open the opportunity for further communication. The smart-glasses will also be suitable for children, particularly school children who may struggle to understand their teacher or peers.
Although there are many mobile applications already available that offer sign language translation assistance, there is no product as such currently on the market. Furthermore, this product has additional benefits because it is eyewear; prescription lenses can be made available for the glasses if desired.
At first I didn’t get any responses but after time a few people began to voice their opinions. One of the main concerns was that not many people know sign language and therefore a speech to voice option may be more beneficial.
“Text technology has freed up many with hearing loss, I just feel sign does the opposite and is restrictive. Certainly sign is no opposition in media at all, given a straight choice, few would choose sign language as a media format of access these days. Not the 9m HoH anyway… I don’t believe media shares the access demand view of BSL. ‘888’ has killed sign access as a necessary media access form. It isn’t a matter of choice/preference or anything else, just it is a superior access format for the majority. So I don’t really follow there is any demand for everyone to learn it or for applications to provide it, the market must be extremely small for it. The advantage of text access is it allows better intro to mainstream and its grammar, I never saw the point learning an alternative that would provide issues of access when I want to read something or get a job, with a loss situation that provides barriers in itself, who needs it ?
The glasses thing has been tried in cinemas etc not really effectively, again subtitling was superior there too. You can be sure once we get instant text access to speech via some really easy means, the sign fraternity will demand a signed version. But only 5% of deaf rely solely on BSL… I believe once a really effective and cheap way is found to access face to face text via unobtrusive translation without a middle person, it will be taken up by us all. At that point, it will be a real game changer for the BSL deaf. Their peers will have real choices…”
“There are more people who are hard of hearing or gone deaf.. and all in between .. who lost their hearing later in life and therfore do not sign. There are probably 6-9 million of us. Therfore BSL would be underused.
It would be much more inclusive and the uptake would be greater if speech to text were used, without the need for a third person.. although there are apps for this out there…they are still not accurate enough to say follow a film or the news in real time. Now that would be something if this could be achieved.”
Another concern was the cost of the project:
“It sounds like a great idea but I have a few reservations. First of all it will cost a lot of money to develop this. There are already BSL translation applications on mobiles and there is a danger that other more portable apps will come along while you are developing this. So you would be dependent on earning enough money from the finished product and I have doubts about that.”
It seemed that there were a lot of negative responses regarding the project. So I decided to take on board what had been said and change the concept of the product slightly. The changes that will be made are based upon the response that BSL may not be a common method of communication for all deaf or hard of hearing people. The option to to have speech-text translation will now be incorporated into the design. There is reason to think that product will benefit from this change as the target market is likely to expand, people who do not know sign language may potentially be open to purchasing the product, as well as people who have slight hearing loss.