I think it’s fair to say that many of us are overwhelmed by the internet and the rapid pace of technological change that it represents and enables. The more we rely on it, the more we are committed to being inspired by, accepting and coping with its constant novelty. In the wake of all of these chaotic developments, the human race can only take things day by day as we try to assimilate unprecedented opportunities into everyday life.
But there are, of course, people that the tech hurricane still has not reached. In this case, I’m talking about the deaf and blind. Deaf and blind people communicate exclusively through touch; it is common for language to be shared by stroking the symbols for letters and words onto people’s hands. Unfortunately, this method of communication does not mesh well with the most common ways of using the internet, which of course involves reading screens or listening to audio.
Design Lab researcher Tom Bieling is committed to finding the solution to this problem. He is finishing up his doctoral studies in Berlin and studies the connection between design and ability (and/or the feeling of disability). According to Bieling, the feeling of being disabled is more a function of design than people realize; for example, someone who uses a wheelchair will not feel disabled then moving up a ramp, but will feel disabled when faced with stairs.
Accordingly, Bieling has created a ramp between deaf and blind people and the internet, so to speak. He has created a glove knitted with fabric pressure-sensors. When letters are stroked onto the glove, the touch is translated into digital text. That text can then be transmitted over the internet and translated back into the same patterns of touch to be felt by another glove wearer.
Outside of messaging, the glove can also be used to read any text on the internet, opening up an entire world of books, news, and general information for the blind and deaf who generally need a translator to access that kind of information.
The users can even adjust the intensity and speed of the incoming messages according to their preferences and reading skills.
Bieling’s clever device won him first prize in the 2014 Falling Walls Lab competition held annually in Berlin.
For the time being, the glove only translates the hand-touch alphabet “Lorm” from touch to digital text. Lorm is mostly used in Germany and corresponds to the German alphabet, so revisions of the glove would need to be made to allow for use by deaf-blind people in other countries. However, because the Lorm Glove functions as a simultaneous translator, a deaf-blind person wearing the glove could communicate with others who don’t speak Lorm.
According to the Design Research Lab’s website, the next step for the Lorm Glove will be to “prepare the implementation of direct speech input and output.”
Thanks to researchers like Bieling, the world is expanding rapidly for everyone, even people that operate off screen.