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Google Glass: The Good, The Bad, and the Hearing-Impaired (Un)Friendly

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Of all the current technology making headlines, Google Glass is the prima donna. It’s slick, it’s high-tech, and it’s fashionable—even the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit is all over it. And it might just also become the next product for the hearing impaired.

Make that a big “might,” though. The jury’s still out on whether Google Glass will be ultimately disability-friendly or not.

Recently, news broke that Google Glass has helped a half-deaf person hear. Thanks to Glass’s bone conduction audio technology—which quite literally means that sound is sent right through the person’s bone—David Trahan, a senior strategist with deafness in his right ear, was able to hear the sounds that came straight from the accessory.

Even more useful is SMARTSign, an app that has recently become compatible for Google Glass that teaches ASL to parents of hearing-impaired children. As Google+ Research’s page points out, 90% of deaf children are born to parents who aren’t hearing impaired, which obviously leads to communication barriers. The current app for Google Glass provides parents with multiple-choice quizzes, using videos of signs. To find out more about SmartSign, go here for more information. It is also available for Android here. While the Google Glass app still doesn’t have the search and record feature that the Android counterpart does, Kim Xu, the developer behind SMARTSign, tells Mashable that might change soon.

But does that mean the hearing aid industry is now out of the picture? That Google Glass is the new solution for the hearing impaired? Not at all.

A deaf journalist named Lisa Goldstein wrote on her experience with being selected for Google’s Glass Explorer program for Mashable. But before she paid for an airplane ride and hotel stay in San Francisco, Los Angeles, or New York to pick it up, she called representatives multiple times to find out if it was worth it. Here is what she found out:

  1. In terms of how it physically fit, Glass wasn’t hearing aid-compatible
  2. She had no reassurance that there would be no electromagnetic inference (EMI) with her hearing aid or cochlear implant
  3. Google Glass may not be able to register her “deaf accent.” Here’s the Google representative’s answer to her question about voice recognition: “I think it might be better than Siri.”
  4. Besides voice recognition, there’s no other way Lisa could have input commands
  5. No captioning of what the Glass says
  6. The bone conduction technology doesn’t work for the degree of deafness Lisa has

In fact, Change.org recently circulated a petition that demanded Google Glass to use telecoils, which you can learn more about here. While bone conduction technology may be more discreet, it does not work for many deaf people. Telecoils, on the other hand, are standard in most hearing devices, and the FCC even mandates it for many technological products.

The writer of the Change.org petition, Robert Rodriguez, said this,

“It doesn’t matter how much you vibrate the bones in my ear, the part of my ear that transmits sound information to my brain is gone. Others with with bone conduction disease don’t even have bones to vibrate in the first place. Others would still find the device not loud enough to use without frustration.”

Google Glass may seem every bit the way of the future, but for many in the hearing impaired community, it still has a long way to go.

by Andrea Garcia Vargas

2 responses to “Google Glass: The Good, The Bad, and the Hearing-Impaired (Un)Friendly

  1. I’m a post-lingual deaf. I wonder how I can participate to make Google Glass friendly to post-lingual deaf folks…?

  2. An old man of 78, teaching reading and writing.
    For years have suffered from hard of hearing.
    Would deeply appreciate to enlist me as a priority buyer or volunteer of your new
    product, Google Glass Hearing Aid. Thank you very much, in advance, for your consideration.

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