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January 3, 2019 3:26 pm

New Israeli Smartphone App May Revolutionize Communication for Deaf People

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

A man uses a smartphone. Photo: Reuters / Samrang Pring.

A new smartphone app developed by students at the Holon Institute of Technology (HIT) will facilitate communication by deaf people without the aid of sign language.

DAS-Deaf Access Solution was developed by two students at HIT and uses a Google app called Speech Recognizer to translate speech into text, allowing the deaf and hard of hearing to interact one-on-one with hearing people in various situations, such as doctors’ visits and business transactions.

Ayelet Avraham, 28, one of the developers of the application, told Hebrew news site Mako that she got the idea when she saw a deaf person trying to buy a cellular phone, but was unable to communicate with the salesman.

“I returned home and couldn’t relax,” she said. “My husband and I couldn’t understand how in 2018 there was no technological solution to this problem. It seemed insane to me, so we investigated and found that there was no such technology in Israel. Even though there’s a law that obligates places to be accessible, there had been no attempt until today to advance the issue.”

“Thanks to technology,” she added, “we can all function anyplace in the world even if we don’t know the language. For example, you can write something and the taxi driver can hear it and understand, so how could it be possible that there is no such possibility for the deaf? Reality today isolates the deaf from the public space.”

Avraham and her partners brought the idea to one of her professors, who reacted positively. He put them in touch with Access Israel, an organization that aids the disabled.

Following a few more tweaks and fixes, Avraham will present the app to the organization.

According to Avraham, one of the major advantages of the application is that, unlike normal texting apps, it requires no personal information to connect with users. Instead, it uses simple proximity to identify users and start conversations.

“This is especially good for meetings between doctors and patients, salesmen and customers, professors and students, etc,” said Avraham. “These are situations that are less amenable to exchanging personal telephone numbers … but there’s still the need to conduct and follow a conversation.”

Her application, she says, “allows the deaf to understand what’s happening around them and not depend on others’ knowledge of sign language.”

As a public service, Avraham and her team are hoping to use Access Israel to raise awareness of the application.

“The application works,” she said, “but we haven’t sent it to stores, because the goal isn’t just to distribute it, but to do it in a way that will be advantageous and have the most benefit. If we don’t do it publicly, chances are it will disappear and no one will hear much about it. We want to present it to Access Israel in order to make the change in a country-wide, systematic way.”

Thus far, the response has been very good, but Avraham is waiting to see what will happen when the app becomes widely available to deaf customers.

“I can’t wait for the stage when we see it in practical operation,” she said. “It’s really a dream to think that the day will come when our application will become something routine in every business, public or private, and makes the world more acceptable. If it happens — we did our job.”

Watch a demonstration video of the DAS-Deaf Access Solution app below:

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