- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 3, 2003


An electronic glove that can turn American Sign Language gestures into spoken words or text, designed to help the deaf communicate more easily with the hearing world, is under development.

Researcher Jose Hernandez-Rebollar of George Washington University has demonstrated that his AcceleGlove can translate the rapid hand movements used to make the alphabet and some of the words and phrases of sign language.

His is not the only such experimental device. The military is exploring similar technology to help soldiers in combat. But Mr. Hernandez-Rebollar says his invention goes further than others because it also can translate into spoken words and simple sentences some of the more complex arm and body motions of ASL.

The 34-year-old native of Mexico came to Washington through the Fulbright Program, which offers grants for graduate students, teachers and others to study abroad. His field is electrical engineering, and the sensor-studded glove was his doctoral engineering project.

Not deaf himself, Mr. Hernandez-Rebollar said his invention was driven by a desire to help others live fuller lives.

“I want to produce something that deaf people can use in everyday life,” he said.

The National Campaign for Hearing Health, which promotes research and education, says 28 million people in the United States have some sort of hearing trouble.

More than one-third of the cases are caused at least partly by accumulated exposure to noise from everyday encounters with airplanes, air conditioners, hair dryers, dishwashers, garbage disposals, lawn mowers, car alarms and rock music.

The AcceleGlove is a wearable computer with tiny electronic circuitry. Sensors in the glove work with a microcontroller attached to the wearer’s arm, mapping the placement and movement of the arm and fingers. That information is read by a computer and converted to words heard from a loudspeaker or read on a computer screen.

Deaf parents with hearing children, and vice versa, could find the glove helpful, said Corinne K. Vinopol, who heads the Institute for Disabilities, Research and Training Inc. The commercial laboratory in Wheaton is where Mr. Hernandez-Rebollar has been doing much of his work.

Miss Vinopol was especially interested in Mr. Hernandez-Rebollar’s work to make the device translate American Sign Language into spoken Spanish as well as English because of the help it could give to immigrant families.

“The small, deaf children go to school and learn English and ASL,” she said. “The parents go on speaking Spanish. Gradually they lose any means of communication.”

But the idea of turning sign language into speech annoys some deaf people who see ASL — used in the United States and English-speaking Canada — as part of their unique culture.

“Some feel that being deaf is not a deficiency,” said Andy Lange, president of the National Association of the Deaf. “It’s simply another way of life, and the deaf should not use artificial means to overcome a loss of hearing.”

Other researchers are working on wearable devices for translating movement to sound. A baseball cap with cameras to capture movement was another experiment.

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