According to the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), there are more than 70 million people with varying degrees of hearing deficiencies in the world. The exact number of hearing-impaired people in Singapore is unknown. However, the Singapore Deaf Association estimates that there may be more than 100,000 people in Singapore with varying degrees of hearing deficiencies. The hearing-impaired community mostly uses sign-language, lip-reading, hearing-aids and writing to interact with each other as well as people with normal-hearing. However, due to difficulties in communication (that arise from the negative feedback loop whereby most people with severe hearing-impairment are not able to communicate verbally and most people with normal hearing are not able to communicate using sign language), there have been limited interactions between these two communities. Similarly, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 284 million people are visually-impaired worldwide. Vision plays a major role on how we perceive things and for the visually-impaired, lack of sight is a major barrier in daily living: information access, mobility, interaction with environment and others are challenging issues.
This project broadly focuses on designing interfaces for people with sensory impairments, hearing-impaired and visually-impaired in particular, enabling them to interact with the environment seamlessly. Despite efforts and the great variety of wearable assistive devices available for the hearing-impaired and visually-impaired, the user acceptance of these devices is quite low. One of the reasons for low user acceptance could be that user requirements are not given adequate attention during the design process. It is important that we get target users involved from the early stage of a design process. We will look at the creative ways of integrating cutting-edge technologies such and multi touch displays, sophisticated gesture recognition hardware and software, high resolution tactile displays, Pico projectors, etc., to design novel interfaces with higher impact on target users.
Concepts developed in this project will be applicable to a myriad of other contexts. In certain circumstances, people without any sensory impairment might feel like they are sensory impaired (fire fighter in a smoky condition, army soldier in a noisy environment, underwater diver, etc.). A few possible future projects would be: designing an assistive device for a diver to see/hear the underwater environment better; designing an assistive interface for children to help them develop language skills/creativity; developing an interface to help travellers read information displayed in foreign languages (sign boards, directions, restaurant menus); and so on.