Talking and hearing. Two things most of us, including myself, can do without any props or devices. Which means I’m fairly portable – I can dash out the door and trust that if I need to communicate with someone about something, I can. I think about this a lot in respect to Owen. Not that he’s actually dashing anywhere – but he can’t communicate spontaneously with random people. Meaning, the person he will ultimately be communicating with must fully understand the system he’s using. And the ‘system’, if it includes any kind of low- or high-tech device, must be readily available, functioning and accessible.
This is all especially problematic as Owen is Deaf and understands ASL only. If someone wants to say something to him, even without expectation of a clear response… he or she can’t. So often I see people undoubtedly with good intentions attempt to say something to Owen, but stop short. They realize he’s Deaf and simply don’t know what to do. So they rely on that pained, close-lipped half-smile to convey ‘hello’, or whatever it is they wanted to say. Awkward for everyone (except of course, for Owen, who is so used to it he probably thinks it’s a standard greeting).
So here’s something exciting I’ve stumbled on (actually, it was brought to my attention by Laurel at Bloorview – thank you Laurel) – it’s software that allows your selected avatar to communicate in ASL. It will translate on-the-fly – the user can type in an English phrase and the avatar will sign it! Brilliant. Here’s a still from a demo on SignSmith’s website – follow the link below for the full effect. Even if you think you don’t care, go see it – it’s fantastic. (You’ll need the latest Flash player.)
Now, imagine that software, in conjunction with this:
The ASUS eeePC – A teeny, tiny flash-based, Linux notebook that costs around $400. It’s small, rugged and would perform well. Limitations would be battery life, screen size (7″), memory…. but give it some time and that will all change.
Here’s a scenario: we could visit my dad in Stratford, who doesn’t know ASL. He could select an avatar that looks roughly like himself, key in a phrase, and show it to Owen. After Owen stopped giggling, he would probably, at many levels, deeply appreciate the effort.