Deaf Tech: Assistive Technology for the Deaf

When you are completely deaf, hearables don’t work for you.  There are other deaf technology options to solve problems for people who have deafness.  Assistive technology for the deaf is a growing category.  And we need more products for deafness as we live longer, and losing hearing is more prevalent.

1. WHO can use Assistive Technology for the Deaf?

Your grandfather.  Your dad.  You. 

Your dad’s attitude is changing, because he just can’t hear well enough to engage in family conversation.  At his birthday, he seems socially isolated, and it breaks your heart because you don’t know what to do. No one is considering Cochlear because, “I am too old for that”.  This is more than having a hard time hearing conversation; we need to ask what is the new technology for the deal?

2. WHAT do people who have deafness want from tech?

In being respectful, we ask this question:  Do people with deafness want to hear more? or do we need tech to solve problems that is not changing their deafness?  

The NAD “advocates for and looks forward to an even brighter future where new technologies take root and tumble communication barriers to ensure equal access for deaf and hard of hearing people and full participation in all aspects of American life.”

For a person with deafness, let’s focus on how we use technology to remove friction and to solve a problem.  Especially deaf senior citizens.  So how do we aid someone who is deaf to complete a task that otherwise depends on hearing?  What deaf communication devices could someone who is deaf use to receive orders and deliver pizza? Seems like a simple thing, but when you start to pull apart what comprises ‘how to place an order for pizza, and get delivery’, some steps we take for granted would need to adjust.  Here’s a great Wired article about a deaf-run pizzeria that takes your order over the phone and translates it for the team.

This leads us to ask, is assistive technology for the deaf more focused on innovating around converting speech to written communication?

Would this allow a person with deafness to ask someone to talk to their phone, and then after, they could read it? We know Email, Text and Instant Messaging have been enabling tools – where does this take us next?  What is the potential power of GoogleTranslate ?  I can’t find any info from a deaf person saying google translate is the answer, so it must not be yet.

What is the power of Alexa for people with deafness? On one hand, None.  On the other hand, all of what Alexa it is learning right now (and I mean Amazon’s AI machine behind the curtain) about conversations and how humans interact can be used to develop speech to written translation.  Nothing better than people talking to Alexa to iterate her to more value.

We could use tech to transform sound to visual for people that cannot access sound, instead of just making sound louder.  I don’t know what that looks like exactly. It gives me hope to imagine technology for the deaf.

It might look like using augmented reality to overlay a person doing sign language real time over a human talking in front of you.  Imagine you hold your phone up over the person in front of you, and then you can see what you are saying somehow?  It would be cool to have real time captioning in AR through my phone.  I imagine if I went deaf later after 50, I might struggle to try to learn sign language.  I don’t know a lot of senior citizens learning sign language.

What about VR opportunities? Too Soon.  I can’t make sense of that one.  It doesn’t totally align yet.  I just wrote that for completeness; now I’m way into conceptual use of technology that I probably won’t see in my lifetime.

3. WHERE is technology for the deaf right now? 

There some lot of apps in the market right now, some with a focus on closed captioning.

Ava looks interesting. “Ava shows you who says what” for $29.99 / month.

  • When examining their team, they describe themselves “as a team of deaf and hearing folks, we’ve built Ava the way we needed it”.  Love everything about this.
  • They also have a Manifesto for Total Accessibility. This includes their vision as well as their business case.  More love. Strategy + financials is super exciting.  This app looks available and usable, not just ‘coming soon’.

MotionSavvy is also interesting and it seems they are still funding / building / pre launch.

  • I look forward to seeing  their product that people can use, hopefully in the near term.
  • The say that have the ‘first real time translation technology that converts sign language to grammatically correct spoken language’.  That sounds AMAZING.  Someone get into this pilot program so we can see if this works.

ClearCaptions Mobile Free Phone Captions on the Go has a Mobile App which is like the old phone caption interaction but now on your cell phone so that actually might be a good mix for people who ‘prefer to use it the way it used to be’.

This article in the NY Times focuses on closed captioning services that are embedded in mail stream video services.

Greta and Starks in Germany uses a collection of film titles, tech magic to do captions for films.  They are working on an AR setup of this for people who are deaf; using the haptic feedback seems like it could be a new experience.  Here’s the article giving more info.

You can get ASL American Sign Language Emoticons for your IPhone

Don’t forget the oldies but the goodies: Alarm Clocks, Vibrating watches and Timers, Doorbell Signalers, Amplified Handsets, Computer Assisted Notetaking, Hearing Impairment Phones: Telecommunication Device for the Deaf (TDD or TTY), Video Relay Services Video Remote Interpreting

For young kids today with deafness, there are some great inspiring

4. WHEN does this exist? 

January 2018, updated February 2018

5. WHY is Technology for the Deaf important?

Companies that think about doing it differently win.  We know that anyone who can change a paradigm can create a new channel of economy.

Why aren’t there more companies developing assistive technology for the deaf? Beyond assistive listening devices, let’s keep driving towards more products using technology for deaf senior citizens.

DeafWebsites.com talks about the difference in attitudes about technology in the deaf culture; there are a range of opinions just like regular life. Deaf Seniors of America looks like a great resource for seniors to learn about technology for deaf senior citizens, because we think this group has its own needs too.

Its nice to have a discussion considering everyone’s perspective, as we need to understand what problem we want to solve, to use technology to solve the right problem.  NYtimes has VR experience of how music feels to a deaf person.  This blows my mind.

If you want to see what our federal agencies think technology and deafness means, check out National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders – Treatment and Devices and theNational Association of the Deaf.

The Health and Human Services team for North Carolina has an excellent list of tech tools that seems well updated.  Go NC!


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