Avatars Expand Internet Access for the Deaf

Computer scientists from Saarbrucken in Germany have developed an approach where animated online characters display content in sign language. Researchers Alexis Heloir and Fabrizio Nunnari, working with Peter Schaar, a lecturer for German sign language at the Saarland University Language Center and the College of Engineering and commerce in Saarbrucken, have created avatars that make accentuated movements. While avatars have been seen as a means to expand communication to the deaf, the researchers found that simply animating them to resemble human beings didn’t provide the greater variety of emotional expressions that humans need to effectively communicate.

To capture the motions of deaf people, the scientists use affordable cameras and sensors, making the process inexpensive and easy to use. A computing method then transfers the movements of the entire body onto the avatar. The long-term goal is to create a collection of short sign language sequences that can be used by the deaf to interact on the Web. Animated characters could also be used to provide information quickly in cases where there is no interpreter, for example, in public forums such as train stations and airports.
[ScienceDaily, August 2014]


When is an interpreter required in a hospital setting?

Under the ADA, whenever patients, their family members, companions, or members of the public are interacting with hospital staff, the hospital is obligated to provide effective communication. Situations where an interpreter may be required include:
• Discussing a patient’s symptoms and medical condition, medications, and medical history
• Explaining and describing medical conditions, tests, treatment options, medications, surgery and other procedures
• Providing a diagnosis, prognosis, and recommendation for treatment
• Obtaining informed consent for treatment
• Communicating with a patient during treatment, testing procedures, and during physician’s rounds
• Providing instructions for medications, post-treatment activities, and follow-up treatments
• Providing mental health services, including group or individual therapy, or counseling for patients and family members
• Providing information about blood or organ donations
• Explaining living wills and powers of attorney
• Discussing complex billing or insurance matters
• Making educational presentations, such as birthing and new parent classed, nutrition and weight management counseling, and CPR and first aid training


Communicating with people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing in hospital settings

 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires hospitals to provide effective means of communication for patients, family members, and hospital visitors who are deaf or hard of hearing. Wherever patients, their family members, companions, or members of the public are interacting with hospital staff, the hospital is obligated to provide effective communication.
The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, interpreting the ADA, discusses these obligations and offers the following guidelines for complying with the law:

1. The ADA applies to all hospital programs and services. This includes emergency room care, inpatient and outpatient surgery, clinics, educational classes, and cafeteria and gift shop services.
2. The simpler the interaction, the less complicated the required accommodation. For example, exchanging written notes or pointing to items for purchase can be effective communication for brief face-to-face conversations, such as a visitor’s inquiry about a patient’s room number or a gift shop purchase.
3. Written forms or information sheets may be sufficient where there is little call for interactive communication, such as providing billing and insurance information or filling out admission forms and medical history inquiries.
4. Where the communications are more interactive and complicated, such as a patient’s discussion of symptoms with medical personnel, a physician’s presentation of diagnosis and treatment options to patients and family members, or group therapy session, it may be necessary to provide a qualified sign language interpreter or other interpreter, such as an oral interpreter, a cued-speech interpreter (essentially an oral interpreter using supplemental hand codes or cues), or computer-assisted real time transcription (CART).

Check back for examples of situations in hospital settings where an interpreter may be required.


FCC EXPANDS ACCESS T0 911 EMERGENCY SERVICE

New rules requiring text messaging providers to allow Americans to send a text to 911 to get help during an emergency have been adopted by the FCC. The rules were adopted to ensure that 911 keeps pace with changing technology by requiring all wireless providers and interconnected text providers to support text-to-911 by the end of 2014.
Texting has become a widely adopted communications tool and is the principal means by which many people with disabilities communicate. Text-to-911 can provide a lifesaving alternative for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or who have a speech disability.
The Commission noted with disappointment that only four nationwide wireless carriers have made a voluntary commitment to support this emergency service. While the regulatory “see-saw” holds that if industry acts in the public interest, FCC involvement will be low, the Commission reiterated its duty to act if the public interest is not being served. In the words of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, “no company can hang-up on 911.”
Some 911 call centers have already responded to the FCC’s encouragement to begin accepting texts, and it is expected that others will follow as providers develop text-to-911 capability. Nonetheless, it remains up to each 911 call center to decide whether and when to begin accepting texts.


The Use (or underuse) of Hearing Aids

Hearing loss is more common than many people think. An estimated 500 million experience hearing loss worldwide.
How many people use hearing aids? In the US (with a population of over 316 million in 2013), where nearly 10 percent of the population over the age of 3 years have hearing loss, only about 20 percent of those who could benefit from hearing aids actually use the devices.
In comparison, as of 2011 more than 10 million people in the UK, or 1 in 6, have some form of hearing loss. More than 6 million of this group would benefit from hearing aids, but only about 2 million actually have hearing aids, and only 1.4 million use them regularly.
Why don’t people wear hearing aids? Reasons typically cited include: they are uncomfortable; they whistle; they are not useful in a large crowd; wearing them results in over-stimulation or hearing overload; getting used to them takes effort; and the lack of support available to recipients after being given them.
In the US, increasing the rate of hearing aid usage was a Health & Human Services (HHS) Healthy People 2010 goal and continues as a Healthy People 2020 goal. Research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) has driven the development of hearing aids from their inception in the 1950s and remains, today, an ongoing priority for NIDCD.


Proposed Legislation would let Deaf and Hearing Impaired Serve in USAF

On July 30, Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) introduced legislation in the House that would allow a small number of hearing-impaired individuals to serve in the United States Air Force. The legislation would give 15 to 20 people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, but otherwise fit for military duty, the chance to serve their country in a demonstration program. Original co-sponsors include Rep. Niki Tsongas, Rep. John Garamendi, Rep. Henry Waxman, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen.

The proposed legislation is a companion to a Senate bill introduced in December by Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who has noted that the military allows service members who acquire a disability while serving their country to remain on active duty.

The Department of Defense, which sets medical standards for enlistment, excludes from service those who are deaf, use a hearing aid, or have a cochlear implant.

Capt. Casey Doane, of Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, who grew up in a deaf family and is currently on active duty in the Air Force, believes hearing-impaired Americans are capable of serving, pointing to his own experience in support of the claim. Capt. Doane acknowledges that certain accommodations and limitations would have to be made, but ultimately no more than for other individuals with unique circumstances who are already serving.

Rep. Takano further explains that in past decades, the Armed Forces have given groups who were previously excluded the opportunity to serve and calls on the Armed Forces to do the same for fully-qualified individuals with auditory impairments. Congressman Takano would like to see these accommodations offered by all service branches.

The National Association of the Deaf has endorsed the legislation.


Improving communication between deaf and hard of hearing persons in the EU.

Improving communication between deaf and hard of hearing persons in the EU.
Evolving efforts to ensure equal rights for the deaf and hearing impaired in Europe include a 2007 treaty stemming from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The treaty offers a baseline standard for such rights as guaranteed in the U.S. under the Americans with Disability Act.
The basic rights of the hearing impaired under the Convention treaty, while currently not as broad as those required by the ADA, include freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information. “Appropriate” measures must be taken to ensure that the hearing impaired may participate on an equal basis with others. Specific means advocated to accomplish this are “sign languages … augmentative and alternative communication, and all other accessible means, modes and formats of communication of their choice,” to be provided in “a timely manner and without additional cost….” Private entities in the EU are “urged” to consider using the Internet in their efforts, while the mass media is simply encouraged to do so. The ADA also addresses the Internet, but distinguishes obligations based on the nature of the Web site.


Improving communication between deaf and hard of hearing persons in the EU.

The basic rights of the hearing impaired under the Convention treaty, while currently not as broad as those required by the ADA, include freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information. “Appropriate” measures must be taken to ensure that the hearing impaired may participate on an equal basis with others. Specific means advocated to accomplish this are “sign languages … augmentative and alternative communication, and all other accessible means, modes and formats of communication of their choice,” to be provided in “a timely manner and without additional cost….” Private entities in the EU are “urged” to consider using the Internet in their efforts, while the mass media is simply encouraged to do so. The ADA also addresses the Internet, but distinguishes obligations based on the nature of the Web site.


Reasonable Accomodation

 

Legislated arrangements for hearing-impaired individuals can be found world-wide. Though terminology may differ, “reasonable accommodation” is a cornerstone of these efforts, all of which rely on defining hearing impairment as a disability and the failure to reasonably accommodate the disability as discrimination. Broader thinking may reject the disability label; the effect of this characterization on accommodations offered merits a discussion of its own.
A growing acceptance of the need to adapt work, educational or living environments is evident in legislative steps taken to remove the barriers that prevent a disabled person from participating in an activity or receiving services on an equal basis with others. Specific examples include: word-recognition software in British Columbia; audio-loops in Norway; the rewording of examination questions in Tasmania. The specifics may vary, but at their root is the belief that accommodating the hearing-impaired is an issue of human, civil, and political rights.
Of course, some nations are more successful than others in recognizing and addressing the issue. An international effort to raise standards is in place, but there is much to be done.


Job training: An employer’s duty to accommodate

An employer’s obligation to accommodate hearing-impaired employees is an ongoing and multi-faceted one. An interpreter may be requested and required during any stage of the employment process. Yet employers may find themselves unprepared for situations that are not part of the daily routine. One such example is employee training. The ADA requirement that equal access and opportunity be provided to all employees may be understood by most to include employer-sponsored job-training, but under what circumstances? Training that is conducted on-site, by in-house staff, clearly triggers the requirement, but it may be less obvious that training offered through an outside contractor, whether on-site or off, also is covered by the Act.
The EEOC’s enforcement guidance spells this out: employers must provide sign language interpreters, CART services, and other reasonable accommodations to allow disabled employees an equal opportunity to participate in employer-sponsored training, absent undue hardship. Even if the company conducting the training is obligated by the ADA to provide “auxiliary aids and services,” this does not change or eliminate an employer’s obligation to provide such accommodation.
[SLUSA will work with you to determine which of these essential services will best meet your needs.]