The 21st century is turning out to be pretty welcoming place for people hard of hearing. In both the arts and the work force, the deaf community is currently getting a chance to shine more than ever before. Meanwhile, technology advances to allow for better communication between the hard-of-hearing and those who do not understand American Sign Language (ASL). The communication barrier between the hearing and the deaf communities continues to diminish significantly.
Spring Awakening, the deaf musical
The Deaf West Theatre in Los Angeles, known for featuring actors with varying degrees of hearing loss, is putting up a production of the musical Spring Awakening. Incorporating both deaf and hearing performers, the show is performed using speech, song, and sign language. “The show is very much about not being able to communicate between parents and kids,” says Duncan Sheik, the Deaf West score composer. “So there’s a great metaphor, a beautiful metaphor with it being done with this particular set of actors.”
A restaurant with deaf waiters
Signs is a new restaurant in downtown Toronto, Canada, whose servers are all deaf. At this unique establishment the customers are provided menus showing ASL signs on them, so that they can communicate with their waiter. It is a new dining experience for the patrons as well as the servers. “This is an opportunity to work in a work force that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to work in,” says Rachel Shemuel, manager at Signs.
El Deafo, the deaf superhero
After five years of work, artist Cece Bell’s new graphic novel memoir El Deafo! has finally been released. The book is based on Bell’s childhood experiences, from the bout of meningitis that left her deaf to the superhero alter ego she created in order to better navigate the struggles of growing up. Bell tells an entertaining story while depicting how it feels and what it sounds like to be the only deaf kid in the entire school.
Text from a phone call
A French startup called RogerVoice is currently developing the final version of a new app that will help the hard-of-hearing make phone calls. The app subtitles phone conversations as they occur, allowing the receiver to read what the other person is saying via text. A text-to-speech feature is being developed, which will allow app users to type their responses instead of speaking.
Sign language into speech
Developers in Saudi Arabia are creating Hands Can Talk, a software system that can detect hand gestures and convert them into audible words. The person communicating in sign language stands in front of a sensor that locates the position of their hands and face. It then detects their hand movements and translates the gestures into spoken words. Users can also set translations to multiple languages.