Hearing management

Updated 30 November 2017

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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Minette Lister graduated with a Bachelor of Communication Pathology (Audiology) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville in 2015. Thereafter, she completed her compulsory year of community service at Phoenix Assessment and Therapy Centre in Durban. In 2017, Minette started working for Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. She is passionate about working with children and adults to diagnose and manage hearing loss using state of the art technology. Minette offers hearing screening programmes for newborn and high-risk babies, as well as school-aged children, in order to decrease the incidence of late or unidentified hearing loss.

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