Research and technological aids for people who are deaf-blind.Research and Technological Aids for People Who are Deaf-Blind
Six years ago, Daniel Hinton, Sr., an engineer with a profoundly deaf-blind son, Dan, Jr., started a deaf-blind research and development program at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC SAIC - http://saic.com. ). This article discusses: (1) the SAIC development team and it's unique approach for developing aids and devices for deaf-blind people; (2) the technological needs of deaf-blind people; (3) several aids and devices developed for the deaf-blind consumer; and (4) future deaf-blind research and development needs.
The Development Team
The development team philosophy revolves around the deaf-blind consumer, and adds a supporting team of educators, rehabilitation rehabilitation: see physical therapy. specialists, engineers, and scientists. The process begins with deaf-blind consumers identifying their basic equipment needs. The support team, assisted by the deaf-blind consumer, interactively translates the needs into technical requirements, develops prototype devices and conducts training and test programs. The deaf-blind consumer is the focus of the testing in the home, work and rehabilitation environments. Deaf-blind consumers make the final determination on the device's usefulness and its value to their community. This development team philosophy has resulted in practical hardware that allows deaf-blind people to read television, locate people in a room and use personal computers.
That the deaf-blind population is highly heterogeneous was realized early by the development team. My personal experience with Dan, with many other deaf-blind consumers and with the educational and rehabilitation communities indicates to me that the deaf-blind population varies. It varies from people who live in institutions for the profoundly retarded re·tard·ed
1. Often Offensive Affected with mental retardation.
2. Occurring or developing later than desired or expected; delayed. to professionals with Ph.D. degrees. People who are deaf-blind also differ on their degree of vision and hearing loss, age of onset The age of onset is a medical term referring to the age at which an individual acquires, develops, or first experiences a condition or symptoms of a disease or disorder.
Diseases are often categorized by their ages of onset as congenital, infantile, juvenile, or adult. , which disability occurred first, language development (from no language to sign language or English competence), and communications mode (braille, finger spelling Noun 1. finger spelling - an alphabet of manual signs
sign language, signing - language expressed by visible hand gestures , sign, speech, and print). With this functional diversity among the estimated 40,000 deaf-blind people nationwide, it is difficult to define the broad technological needs of people who are deaf-blind. Therefore, individual needs must be assessed before devices are developed that meet the broadest range of personal needs.
The difficulty in developing equipment for deaf-blind people is directly related to the unique problem of their dual handicap. Devices produced for people who are hearing impaired, such as TeleCaption decoders for reading television, are not accessible by deaf-blind people based on degree of visual impairment Visual Impairment Definition
Total blindness is the inability to tell light from dark, or the total inability to see. Visual impairment or low vision is a severe reduction in vision that cannot be corrected with standard glasses or contact lenses and , nor are devices produced for people who are blind, such as speaking clocks, stoves, computers, and other devices accessible by people who are deaf-blind based on degree of hearing impairment hearing impairment
A reduction or defect in the ability to perceive sound. . In most cases, hearing impaired and blind aids and devices must be modified to provide large character displays, braille or tactile tactile /tac·tile/ (tak´til) pertaining to touch.
1. Perceptible to the sense of touch; tangible.
2. Used for feeling.
3. outputs for deaf-blind people to allow as many people as possible to use the devices at affordable prices.
Technological Needs of Deaf-Blind People
In general, deaf-blind people have the same basic needs that we all have, such as a comfortable place to live, meaningful employment and opportunities for recreation and socialization socialization /so·cial·iza·tion/ (so?shal-i-za´shun) the process by which society integrates the individual and the individual learns to behave in socially acceptable ways.
n. based upon individual choice and options. To accomplish these goals, deaf-blind people require devices that expand their horizons. Individual needs include communication, education, recreation, situation awareness, lifestyle, and vocation. The devices can be simple or complicated in design or function, but for the deaf-blind person, it must be extremely simple to understand and operate. People who are deaf-blind must be able to operate the devices independently, or they will neither accept nor use the device at home, school and work.
To meet the research and development needs of deaf-blind people, SAIC established a professional development team with the development philosophy described above. The development team includes several deaf-blind consumers in the Washington, D.C., area, educators and rehabilitation specialists from the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults (HKNC HKNC Helen Keller National Center ) in Sands Point, New York Sands Point is a village located at the northernmost tip of the Cow Neck Peninsula on the North Shore of Long Island in Nassau County, New York. As of the United States 2000 Census, the village population was 2,786. , and SAIC's engineers, technicians and university student interns This article or section is written like an .
Please help [ rewrite this article] from a neutral point of view.
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I am the senior SAIC engineer, and my son, Dan, provided the motivation for forming this development team concept. At the beginning, I could not understand why more devices were not available for deaf-blind people. After talking with many deaf-blind people and staff of the Helen Keller National Center in 1983, I was amazed a·maze
v. a·mazed, a·maz·ing, a·maz·es
1. To affect with great wonder; astonish. See Synonyms at surprise.
2. Obsolete To bewilder; perplex.
v.intr. to find that the only development team devoted to aids and devices for deaf-blind people was being dismantled dis·man·tle
tr.v. dis·man·tled, dis·man·tling, dis·man·tles
a. To take apart; disassemble; tear down.
b. that year at HKNC due to Congressional funding cuts. This HKNC team developed the TeleBrailler and the Tactile Communicator that allowed deaf-blind people independent communications for the first time. This gap in technology development led me to form the SAIC team to continue where the HKNC team left off.
Educators are important to the team because it is they who define the technology needed to education deaf-blind people. Generally, educators understand equipment requirements needed to meet future educational requirements in the classroom.
The rehabilitation specialists at the Helen Keller National Center teach deaf-blind people to cope with day-to-day living and understand the need for aids and devices that improve lifestyle and vocational opportunities. This includes mobility, independent living and vocational training. HKNC has the professionals to test the aids and devices with deaf-blind clients and to make specific recommendations for improvements.
Finally, SAIC engineers, technicians and student interns are needed to translate needs into hardware and software and form them into aids and devices for deaf-blind consumers. The central concept is to allow the engineers and technicians direct access to deaf-blind consultants and the other members of the team throughout the development process. This insures that the final devices and aids will meet the needs of deaf-blind people and also motivates the technical staff to think about present development efforts and future needs in human terms, rather than as abstract concepts.
The team approach insures successful development by establishing an environment in which the various team members can directly interact throughout the definition of needs, the definition of the technical requirements and the development and testing of the aids and devices.
The relatively small deaf-blind population requires a personal development approach to meet their needs at reasonable cost. Before development begins, the team identifies the need, surveys existing devices to make sure nothing already exists that could meet the need, looks at the possibility of modifying existing devices if practical, and, finally, begins developing a new specialized device only as a last resort.
Some Devices Developed for Deaf-Blind Consumers
Each of the following SAIC deaf-blind developments have a different story on how the development started which reflects this team philosophy:
* the Deaf-Blind Alarm Clock;
* the Braille TeleCaption System;
* the People Finder;
* the Deaf-Blind Computer Terminal Interface; and
* the Personal Braille Printer (printer) Braille printer - (Or "(Braille) embosser") A printer, necessarily an impact printer, that renders text as Braille. Blind users call other printers ink printers. .
The Deaf-Blind Alarm Clock is an example of an aid that required no development effort. The HKNC staff, in an Advisory Council meeting, identified a need for a vibrator vibrator /vi·bra·tor/ (vi´bra-tor) an instrument for producing vibrations.
an apparatus used in vibratory treatment. alarm clock for deaf-blind people. At this meeting, I recommended a simple commercially available wall timer that can be set by a deaf-blind person in 15-minute intervals and used with an existing vibrator device. No development was required. The device was implemented by HKNC and recommended to deaf-blind clients.
The Braille TeleCaption System uses the Department of Education developed TeleCaption set for people who are deaf, a computer and the HKNC developed TeleBrailler to allow deaf-blind people to read television. The Braille TeleCaption System is an example of a device that required modification of several existing devices and the development of special computer software and interconnecting cables.
The Braille TeleCaption System was my first practical invention for people who are deaf-blind; more than any other device, it illustrates the SAIC development philosophy. In 1981, at age 10, my son went deaf because of cancer. At that time, my wife and I purchased a TeleCaption decoder A hardware device or software that converts coded data back into its original form. See decode and MPEG decoder. for hearing impaired people so Dan could read television. One year later, he became blind. I realized that the decoder was now useless to him, and I decided to develop a system that would provide a braille or tactile output to allow him to read television. Dan, was enthusiastic about the idea even though he did not know how to read braille or Morse code Morse Code
International Morse Code
A · –
B – · · ·
C – · – ·
D – · ·
E · at the time. I developed a prototype system with a simple tactile output device that represented the six braille elements. This device was demonstrated to several deaf-blind persons, whose recommendations were included in the early design. Next, I applied for and was awarded in 1985 a Field Initiated Grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) is a United States governmental institution that provides leadership and support for a comprehensive program of research related to the rehabilitation of individuals with disabilities. (NIDRR NIDRR National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (US Department of Education) ), Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative re·ha·bil·i·tate
tr.v. re·ha·bil·i·tat·ed, re·ha·bil·i·tat·ing, re·ha·bil·i·tates
1. To restore to good health or useful life, as through therapy and education.
2. Services, U.S. Department of Education. This provided funding to complete the development of the system software and hardware. The device is presently being used by over 20 deaf-blind people nationwide, as well as at the Helen Keller National Center for training and demonstration. The deaf-blind users say that the Braille TeleCaption system allows them to stay in touch with the world.
Development of the Braille TeleCaption System required designing a cable to connect the TeleCaption decoder with a Commodore One of the first personal computer companies. In 1977, Commodore Business Machines, West Chester, PA, introduced the PET computer and launched the personal computer industry along with Apple and Radio Shack. In 1982, it introduced the Commodore 64 (64K RAM) and later the Commodore 128. 64 computer, developing software to translate the caption information into braille, and, finally, modifying a telephone handset to provide the connection between the computer and the TeleBrailler. Deaf-blind people can operate the device independently and use it with the TeleBrailler in the telephone mode to read closed caption news, weather and sports.
The People Finder is a specialized device designed and developed by Nelson Dew dew, thin film of water that has condensed on the surface of objects near the ground. Dew forms when radiational cooling of these objects during the nighttime hours also cools the shallow layer of overlying air in contact with them, causing the condensation of some and me to meet the specific deaf-blind person's need for a situational awareness Situation awareness or situational awareness  (SA) is the mental representation and understanding of objects, events, people, system states, interactions, environmental conditions, and other situation-specific factors affecting human performance in device. The People Finder is a hand held device that uses infrared to locate people, stoves, animals, and other heat sources in the deaf-blind person's immediate area. The device overcomes the deaf-blind person's isolation by allowing him/her to be more independent through a better understanding of his/her environment. No other device on the market was available to meet this need. Several technologies were evaluated, and infrared technology was selected as the best method available. Circuits were designed and two prototype devices were fabricated fab·ri·cate
tr.v. fab·ri·cat·ed, fab·ri·cat·ing, fab·ri·cates
1. To make; create.
2. To construct by combining or assembling diverse, typically standardized parts: , which are presently being tested by Dan and Jack Wright, who is also deaf-blind. Early indications are that the device will provide a significant improvement in a deaf-blind person's ability to live a more independent lifestyle. Dan uses the device to locate members of the family in a room, to explore the neighborhood and to establish the location of people in meetings or social gatherings.
In test trials, it has allowed deaf-blind users to know when other people are in the room so that they can initiate a conversation. Also, in the kitchen they can determine if the stove is turned on. Many other heat sources are important to situational awareness as well -- light sources, the heat from roofs which enables a deaf-blind person to locate buildings while walking, and the heat difference between sidewalk A Microsoft service that was launched in 1997 to provide online arts and entertainment guides on the Web for major cities worldwide. In 1999, Microsoft sold Sidewalk to Ticketmaster, which continued to provide guides, ticketing and other information to the MSN network. and grass. These things "These Things" is an EP by She Wants Revenge, released in 2005 by Perfect Kiss, a subsidiary of Geffen Records. Music Video
The music video stars Shirley Manson, lead singer of the band Garbage. Track Listing
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2. make it possible for the deaf-blind person to assess his/her environment.
The difference in the People Finder and other infrared devices is that its electronic circuit allows it to be used hand held and still have a very low false alarm rate.
This device grew out of Jack Wright's request for a way to locate people around his home. Mr. Wright was unable to find his two adopted children when they were sleeping. Other deaf-blind people had a need to locate people and pets in a room. Mr. Dew and I discussed the problem, developed a proposed solution, discussed the solution with Mr. Wright, and constructed a prototype device. Mr. Wright is presently testing the People Finder in his home. The recommendations and ideas generated from the prototype test will be included in the final design.
The Deaf-Blind Computer Terminal Interface allows deaf-blind people to use a computer. The computer software and hardware allow the TeleBrailler to be used as a computer terminal to perform word processing word processing, use of a computer program or a dedicated hardware and software package to write, edit, format, and print a document. Text is most commonly entered using a keyboard similar to a typewriter's, although handwritten input (see pen-based computer) and , play games, act as a real-time clock A real-time clock (RTC) is a computer clock (most often in the form of an integrated circuit) that keeps track of the current time. Although the term often refers to the devices in personal computers, servers and embedded systems, RTCs are present in almost any electronic and do several other functions. This device grew out of the Braille TeleCaption System program. The basic idea was to turn the TeleBrailler into a computer terminal.
The Deaf-Blind Computer Terminal Interface provides a direct computer connection between personal computers and the TeleBrailler, MicroBrailler and a large character telecommunication device for the deaf Telecommunication Device for the Deaf (TDD),
n a machine that converts written text to speech, enabling the deaf to use the telephone. (TDD (Time Division Duplexing) A transmission method that uses only one channel for transmitting and receiving, separating them by different time slots. No guard band is used. Contrast with FDD. See also TDD/TTY.
TDD - Telecommunications Device for the Deaf ). The system allows deaf-blind people to use these devices with a computer for about $400. Considering that the TeleBrailler and MicroBrailler cost $5,000, this is a significant cost savings. Other braille computer devices on the market are expensive and cost between $5,000 and $12,000.
The Deaf-Blind Computer Terminal Interface program was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and is presently in the second year of a 3-year Field Initiated Grant. The program has made significant progress and is being tested in the Washington, D.C., area and at the Helen Keller National Center.
The last device to be discussed is the Personal Braille Printer. It uses a modified standard printer to print braille. The modification is inexpensive and can be done by a sighted person in about 1 hour. With the Personal Braille Printer, television program text can be printed in braille and other computer material can be printed for review and editing.
The Personal Braille Printer Program was initiated because TeleBrailler sales and production had stopped. The Braille TeleCaption system uses the TeleBrailler as the output device. SAIC needed an alternate way to provide closed caption to people who are deaf-blind.
The requirement for the printer was that the person with deaf-blindness be able to operate it without assistance, that it be inexpensive and that it print braille at 6-10 characters per second. The final design meets these design requirements.
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DWP Drinking Water Program
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DWP Drinking Water Protection 230 printer was modified to print braille. The printer cost $500 and the modification approximately $450. The printer attaches to a personal computer and, with SAIC software, prints standard text braille. Future plans call for braille software to be developed that can do all the braille contractions Almost all literary Braille codes use contractions to decrease space and increase reading speed. The contractions presented here are used in the US literary Braille code. Whole words contracted into a single letter .
Future Research and Development Needs
Although SAIC's work to date has provided significant development of devices for deaf-blind people, it falls short of the funding needed to make even more significant progress in meeting the needs of people who are deaf-blind. These needs include improved communications devices Typically refers to a terminal used to send voice, video or text. Mobile phones, wireless PDAs and personal computers equipped with microphones, speakers and cameras are all considered communications devices. See modem. , such as a new Teletouch, voice to braille output devices, situational awareness devices, and a total 360 degree mobility system that can allow deaf-blind people to cross a road or just take a walk around the neighborhood.
To meet the future needs of deaf-blind people and to generate the necessary technology, a method is needed to fund the research and development. For people with other disabilities this has taken the form of a rehabilitation engineering Rehabilitation engineering is the systematic application of engineering sciences to design, develop, adapt, test, evaluate, apply, and distribute technological solutions to problems confronted by individuals with disabilities. center. A similar rehabilitation engineering center administered by the Helen Keller National Center could provide the nucleus for renewing the development of devices for deaf-blind people. Such a center would have consumer, research and development, applications testing, and university sponsored engineering segments applying the research approach discussed earlier to meet the needs of deaf-blind people. Providing research funds to private industry, universities and individual researchers with innovative ideas for advancing technology for deaf-blind people, a Deaf-Blind Rehabilitation Center working closely with companies like SAIC could insure the development of innovative devices to meet the technological needs of people who are deaf-blind.
Mr. Hinton is Senior Communications Engineer, Science Applications International Corporation, Arlington, Virginia.