Taking the notion of talking with your hands to a whole new level is a pair of gloves that can translate sign language into speech. A team of Ukrainian students, QuadSquad, developed the gloves, EnableTalk, and have placed among the six finalists in Microsoft’s Imagine Cup in Sydney.
Noting that there are about 40 million deaf, mute and deaf-mute people, Tech Crunch describes how the gloves could help someone who does not understand sign language still communicate with someone who relies on it:
Using gloves fitted with flex sensors, touch sensors, gyroscopes and accelerometers (as well as some solar cells to increase battery life) the EnableTalk team has built a system that can translate sign language into text and then into spoken words using a text-to-speech engine. The whole system then connects to a smartphone over Bluetooth.
Interactions with hearing-impaired athletes gave the team the idea to develop the gloves, which have been tested with sign language users in the Ukraine.
Sign languages varies around the world and from region to region and users can actually “teach the system new gestures and modify those that the team plans to ship in a library of standard gestures.”
EnableTalk‘s creators says that hardware for its prototypes cost only about $75. If they could be made for anything near that price, they would be within reach of families, therapists and schools.
I was quite intrigued to think of how these gloves might be used and not only for individuals with hearing impairments. My son Charlie‘s diagnosis is autism and his hearing (as far as we can tell) is fine. He has a severe speech and communication disability and, until a few years ago, was unable to produce many sounds. When he was a toddler and just learning to control the muscles and movements of his mouth, tongue and lips, he could say only say a few sounds (at one point, all he said was “dah”).
One of his first speech therapists taught him some sign language, so he could ask for things like crackers or chips. The result was a visible reduction in his frustration level. Charlie also had fine and gross motor delays and could not control his fingers and hands to form the official American Sign Language signs. So his therapist created simplified signs for him to use. As the EnableTalk gloves can be taught new gestures, it seems they could be adapted in many ways.
The advantage of teaching Charlie (whose speech is still very minimal) to communicate using signs while young was that he learned very early in his life that he could communicate in other ways than screaming or grabbing.
Charlie does not use sign language anymore. But I remain curious to learn of new ways to help kids and others like him communicate: Not being able to speak or to speak too much ought not to be a barrier to communicating.
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