Hearing management

Updated 19 September 2016

New device gives deaf people power of speech

Scientists have unveiled a device that translates sign language into spoken word, potentially transforming the lives of deaf people worldwide


Over 4 million South Africans are either deaf or suffer from some kind of hearing impairment. For these people, simply communicating with others can be a laborious, imprecise and sometimes impossible task.

One of the biggest problems complicating deaf communication is the fact that no matter how fluent they are in sign language, the vast majority of people they come across will have absolutely no idea what they are saying. Sign language is not a particularly intuitive system for those with normal hearing. This limits deaf people to communicating with other deaf people and the very small proportion of normal-hearing people who have taken the time to learn sign language.

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Bridging this gap is often seen as the key to helping deaf people integrate with normal society, particularly as most sufferers do not possess any significant mental defect outside of their deafness.

A new invention by six designers from Asia University aims not just to help people get around this barrier, but to remove the barrier completely. The Sign Language Ring is a device which monitors an individuals’ sign language and turns it into spoken words.

The device consists of a bracelet and six rings, three for each hand. The rings detect movement and send this information to the bracelet which combines the data from all 6 rings and determines what the wearer is trying to say which is then broadcast through the bracelet’s built in speaker.

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Even better, the design has taken both sides of the conversation into consideration. The bracelet “listens” to what others are saying and reproduces their speech as text which is displayed on the bracelet’s screen.

While the device is still currently a prototype, it won the prestigious Red Dot Design Award in the communication category. It is hoped that this win will provide the support needed to bring the design to reality, a reality that could revolutionise the role of deaf people in society.

Sources: Greatist/Red Dot/SANDA

Read more:
Types of hearing aids
Why you should have your baby's hearing tested
How to prevent hearing loss


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Hearing Expert

AuD degree obtained in 2013 at AT Still University Health Science Depart-ment, Arizona. Masters in Communication Pathology at the University of Pretoria, 2003. Remedial Teaching Diploma at Rand University, 1996. Degree in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology at the University of Pretoria, 1993. Owner of a private practice in Pretoria since 1999. Educating the community regarding early identification of hearing problems and screening of new-borns. Providing assistance and services at retirement homes. Part-time lecturer at the University of Pretoria and the University of Limpopo. External examiner at the University of Pretoria and the University of Limpopo. Presenter at conferences and seminars.

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