About Those Sign to Speech Gloves [Repost]

“This is the problem, as I see it: when something is invented or created as a temporary access solution even though it is far from perfect, too often the real solution is placed on the back burner. It becomes like, yeah, well, it’s better than nothing, so the permanent ramp isn’t placed, correct captions are not developed, appropriate class supports are not implemented.”

I feel like every other week, somebody is sending me an article about some new gadget for blind people. Often it’s some kind of “smart” cane, or some device that can generate braille on the fly. When I open the article, I often find out this is in the prototype stage. My reaction almost always is, “Call me back when this has completed beta testing. And, when the price is less than three months of Social Security Disability.”

Don’t get me wrong, assistive technology is great-once it’s been shaped by multiple iterations of disabled user testers. And, it’s even better when people can purchase it without relying on government bureaucracies to buy it for them. But, as the below post illustrates, half-baked assistive tech can be worse than no tech at all. It can give people a false sense of confidence that they’ve met their obligations for accessibility. And, it can lead to disappointment and frustration for users. Meriah Nichols, who is deaf, writes about two attempts to give D/deaf people information access: gloves that can translate sign language into speech, and automated video captions. Meriah explains how the technical limitations of both solutions can undermine accessibility for D/deaf people by detracting efforts from true permanent accessibility. It is also clear that a technology which seems helpful at first glance could be useless, or even harmful, to the target population. For example, without an understanding of how American Sign Language works, a “sign-to-speech” glove might seem reasonable; it’s only after understanding the gestural complexities of ASL that it becomes evident how error-prone such a device could be. The bottom line is that disabled people must be integral at all stages of development for any innovation meant to benefit our lives.

… About those Sign-to-Speech Gloves

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