Why I oppose sign language gloves

A few days ago, I was tagged by my deaf friends and my Facebook feeds have been bombarded by this “breakthrough” invention of five electrical engineering students of Camarines Sur Polytechnic Colleges. They invented gloves that can “convert the Filipino Sign Language into audible words.” Major Philippine media news and print outlets picked up the students’ Facebook post and made news about it here, here, and here. This digital media outlet even headlined it as, “Amazing is an understatement”.

For clearer context, here is the news video.

Although I doubt that this is considered as a “breakthrough” because other countries have already invented this like the one made by UCLA, The University of Washington, and a group of Ukrainian students, I greatly laud the efforts they made and am so proud of them simply because they are Filipinos!

However, I am not amazed, not even impressed.

I have been one of the IT consultants of the National Council on Disability Affairs and the then National Computer Center now the Department of Information and Communications Technology on matters related to assistive technologies for Persons With Disabilities since 2007. I have also conducted more than 25 seminars, workshops, and training related to accessible web technologies to the government and private sector as president of the Philippine Web Accessibility Group. I even made a country presentation in India for ASEAN highlighting the progress we made in assistive technologies many years ago. So I humbly consider myself as an expert in this field.

I totally get why this is an amazing concept. To be able to slip on gloves that provide you the communication between deaf and hearing is remarkable. It’s awesome that technology has gotten to where it’s at today. You may believe it’s pretty cool if you don’t know much about being deaf or hard of hearing or what’s in its community.

In this case, the proponents of this technology must first resolve these important accessibility and usability issues:

1. Can it solve the communication problem of the deaf user?

This device is a one-way street. Suppose, a deaf person wears this and “talks” to his hearing receiver.  Since he cannot hear, how can the deaf know that what he “talked” was right? Assuming that the words it says were right, the person he is talking to now understands what the deaf is saying. Then what? Can the receiver respond by talking or by signing too? Since the hearing person does not know sign language, how can he talk back?

The gloves also do not respond to sign language. It responds only to words that were assigned to gestures.

2. Is it comfortable for the user?

Wearing gloves no matter how useful they are, is not comfortable. Can you sign and eat at the same time while wearing it? Can you do other things or move around while wearing it? Is it safe? Better yet, are you happy wearing those silly gloves?

Remember the failure of Google Glass in matters of safety and privacy issues?

google glass as worn by a model
Google Glass

3. Were the users consulted?

In the news interview, Francis Anthony De Guzman, the Team Leader was asked about the purpose of designing the gloves. He replied that their invention will be “for personal use of the deaf community”. Really? Did they make at least an initiative of interviewing members of the deaf community if they will use it? Will it be used by those whom it is intended to? If so, what are their responses?

There is a thriving group of mostly Filipino Deaf on Facebook. The private “Invite-only” group has nearly 8,500 members, the biggest among the deaf community in the Philippines. According to their About Page, the Filipino Deaf vloggers: Feed, Awareness and Openness Group (FDVFAO) is composed of people “supporting Filipino Deaf community in raising awareness and openness such as accessibility information, Deaf access, Deaf rights, Deaf jobs, Deaf education and many more. Deaf people become a better individual and become an inspiration to our community as well to strive for excellence.” One of its admin, Aldrin Gabriel, my former deaf student, personally invited me to join.

After learning about this invention and went viral within the community, the majority of the deaf members disagree with this. Here are some of their sentiments.

No need technology hand for sign language. Must communicate with Deaf and hearing (face to face) even good learning how it communicate also grammar.

 yeah, it’s just test. If propose to PFD [Philippine Federation of the Deaf], not approve by PFD.
Bye gloves technology!

Hearing no respect deaf. Why hearing technology hand sign language. Tsk.

Best is natural than gloves so just pray that community Deaf stronger disagree away the gloves sign language technology

They even reposted this cute video of a deaf child actress Shaylee Mansfield wearing the glove to express their disagreement:

4. Can it accurately convey the message of the user?

According to the inventors, this gadget uses “Filipino Sign Language”. Do they understand the complexity of a language, more so a “sign language”?

Sign language is a visual language. It uses three communication tools to express concepts: the two hands, the upper body, and the face. Also, every sign you do has specific locations, directions, and movements. When you speak, you only use your tongue to convey a concept. Therefore, gloves alone cannot translate sign language because you need the face and the locations of where the signs are going next to your body. It is too complex. Sign language is a three-dimensional language and is not a written language. It cannot be programmed into a pair of gloves.

Here is another video blog post of JP Batadlan, another famous young deaf vlogger with nearly 7,000 Facebook followers which clearly expresses the sentiments of nearly all the Filipino deaf community.

Notice that these four questions have a common context, the “user“. You cannot simply say that this gadget or that medicine or this technology is useful to the user without first including the user in the loop. You cannot dictate to the user what is useful for them and what is not. Otherwise, they won’t use it, and it would eventually become useless.

Still, many people who have barely minimum knowledge about the needs of the deaf community argued that this will be of great help to them. One even defended it by saying,

You are missing the point… this invention is not meant to insult or undermine the deaf. This will make it easier for people who don’t know sign language to understand them and it will even make it easier to teach sign language to others. It will be easier to communicate with the deaf.

Upon careful analysis of this defender’s argument, he is the one entirely missing the point. He is only after the convenience of those who “don’t know sign language” and NOT the people who actually use the language. So he affirms that this gadget is basically designed with the hearing people in mind and not the deaf person.

Is there a better way of communicating with the deaf? Yes! LEARN SIGN LANGUAGE!

I agree with the majority of the Filipino Deaf community’s sentiments that using sign language gloves is not the solution to their communication concern. Still, a salute is in order. So, congratulations to the Team of Francis Anthony De Guzman!!!

I leave this blog post with a tweet made by Jon Urquhart, a Child of a Deaf Adult (CODA), which altogether sums it all. Cheers!

205425273_2307846599351220_4677102840129029125_n

My TV Interpreting and Former President Aquino

Former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III died on June 24. His ashes were laid to rest at the Manila Memorial Park today (June 26). I already posted my condolences to the 15th president of my country on Facebook and also changed my temporary profile photo in honoring him.

My Facebook Condolences….

However, I won’t be focusing in detail on the events leading to his untimely demise nor the other activities that followed. What I want to share with you is how, “incidentally”, because of him, we had our first inset sign language interpretation of a President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on national TV in 2010.

I placed the word “incidentally” between quotes because the ex-president never had a hand on this. These are the collaborative efforts of the deaf community, deaf advocates, deaf institutions, and like-minded individuals in partnership with national TV stations. Worth mentioning is the tireless efforts made by the Philippine Federation of the Deaf (PFD), Dela Salle – College of St. Benilde which is one of the pioneer institutions in advocating for this, and most of my colleagues in the interpreting world. It just so happens that he was the president at that time. Although the bill on Filipino Sign Language started to make headway during his presidency, the actual law was in full gear and eventually signed into law on 2018 during his successor’s time, President Rodrigo Duterte.

As I was remembering the former president, I googled photos of me interpreting for him. I was very much blessed that I was chosen by the organizers from Dela Salle-College of St. Benilde (DLS-CSB) to be one of the first sign language interpreters assigned for SONA together with DLS-CSB Dean Nicky Templo-Perez. The National Council on Disability Affairs even documented the first sign language interpreted SONA ever, on their official website. The site says,

NCDA lauds GMA7 for its history making streaming news on President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) with sign language interpretation, last June 26, 2010. The Council cheered with thousands of deaf viewers this country’s  first-ever SONA, heard live  by thousands of deaf citizens through a sign language interpreter, thanks to GMA7’s  kapuso  network. Mr. Jojo Esposa interpreting through sign language the State of the Nation’s Address of President Noynoy Aquino.

Excited MCCID Training Director and PWAG President Remberto Esposa Jr. tipped off the Council day before the President’s SONA, that GMA7 News tapped him to interpret the event, most awaited by every Filipino here and in many parts of the world. For the first time, deaf Pinoys, felt one with fellow Filipinos with and without disabilities everywhere in the world, the same great pride over the new President’s humble but noble pronouncements. Loud and clear through the interpreter, they too applauded his marching orders to ban undue use of “wang wang” (sirens) and his call to fight corruption in his inaugural speech. Most of all, his “Kayo ang Boss ko” (You, the Filipino people, are my Boss), got the biggest public cheer of all.

P-noy's SONA with sign language inset.

P-noy’s SONA with sign language inset.

Original article appears here: Pnoy’s SONA Reaches Thousands of Deaf Pinoys Nationwide – NCDA

As I was googling for the actual interpreting on TV, I never found one. Only photos. However, I was very much surprised that I was interviewed by GMA Network, one of the largest media organizations in the country and saved it on YouTube. The interviewer candidly asked me if I was scared to interpret and what I would expect from this activity. I honestly said I was trembling because I don’t know what he would say. Also, the reporter asked what interpreting language I would be using, which I answered in Filipino Sign Language. She followed it up with a query if it is the same as the Filipino language. I explained to her that it’s not the same. FSL is a separate distinct language used by native Filipino deaf users. I added that we are just there to bridge the communication gap between the hearing world and the deaf.

Here is the YouTube link of the said interview:

Behind the Scenes: Sign language interpretation of the SONA

This activity was a trailblazer of sorts because, on the succeeding years, all TV stations broadcast the president’s SONA with inset sign language interpreting. With this, I can probably conclude that this is one of the former Head of State’s impacting legacy. Condolence again to the family of the late President.

Police Apprehends Suspect in Killing of Teenage Deaf

This gruesome killing of an innocent deaf man happened in Calapan City, Oriental Mindoro in March 2019. Henry Orpia, 18 years old was brutally killed while on his way home after visiting his friends. He was also robbed of his cellphone and wallet. His killer, JV Datoon, was arrested with the aid of an informant who helped the police solve the crime.

Here is the re-post of the news article which originally appeared here. https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1122676/cops-nab-suspect-in-killing-of-deaf-mute-in-calapan-city

TAGAYTAY CITY, Philippines – The suspect in the killing of a deaf-mute in Calapan City nearly two months ago was arrested Thursday morning [May 23, 2019], police said.

Colonel Thomas Frias Jr., director of Oriental Mindoro police, said in a report that JV Datoon, 18, a farmer and a resident of San Teodoro town in Oriental Mindoro, was arrested for robbery with homicide in Barangay Balugo, Mansalay town, also in Oriental Mindoro at around 5:45 a.m.

 

Police used the warrant of arrest issued by Cefelene Goco, presiding judge of the Regional Trial Court Branch 40 in Pinamalayan dated May 14.

Earlier police reports stated that Jemar brutally killed John Henry Orpia, 18, in Sitio LTO Upper in Barangay San Rafael in Calapan City. The victim’s body was found by a resident on March 29.

Police said the victim was on his way home from visiting friends when he was robbed and killed. His cellphone and wallet were missing.

Calapan Mayor Arnan Panaligan offered a P100,000 reward for information that would lead to the arrest of Orpia’s killer.

Calapan City Mayor Arnan Panaligan has personally handed a P100,000 check to an informant.

 

Deaf Nyle DiMarco mistakenly offered a wheelchair

Well, talk about mistaken identity…. err… disability! I decide to post this article because it amuses me that even on this day and age, many people are still unfamiliar with the needs and identity of the deaf people. Even a very popular deaf icon was not spared.

“Apparently being deaf at an airport means I need a wheelchair.” – Nyle DiMarco

Nyle DiMarco is a famous deaf American model, actor, and activist. In 2015, he won the reality television series America’s Next Top Model Season 22 and became the second male winner and also the first deaf winner. Then in 2016, he and professional dance partner Peta Murgatroyd won in the ABC dance competition Dancing with the Stars Season 22.

Many followers do not realize this but Nyle comes from a deaf family. Specifically, his mother Donna and father Neal Thompson are deaf. So are both of his brothers. His fraternal grandparents were also born deaf. He also does not consider himself disabled by deafness and sees his media profile as an opportunity to bring awareness to Deaf culture. He views deafness as an advantage in modeling because he is accustomed to communicating without speaking. He believes deaf actors should play deaf roles.

In October 2015, DiMarco came out as “sexually fluid” when asked during an interview with Out magazine about his sexuality. It means he belongs to the LGBTQ+ community. 

Here is the entire repost article from Teen Vogue Website:

Nyle DiMarco Said an Airline Gave Him a Wheelchair After a Flight, Seemingly Because He’s Deaf

“Apparently being deaf at an airport means I need a wheelchair.”

When Nyle got off a recent flight, he tweeted that he was greeted with a wheelchair meant to help him get through the airport. However, Nyle can get around without assistance, so why was the chair waiting for him? Nyle posited that it might be because he’s deaf. “Not a clear video but apparently being deaf at an airport means I need a wheelchair,” Nyle wrote alongside a video of him walking up to the chair and greeting the person waiting with it. This was probably some sort of mix up, but just in case it needs to be said: Being deaf doesn’t mean a person requires a wheelchair. Nyle apparently had a sense of humor about the situation, noting that the person waiting with the chair seemed to recognize the mistake.

“Y’all should’ve seen the look on the guy’s face tho lmao, he knew delta made a huge mistake 💀💀💀,” Nyle wrote in a follow-up tweet.

https://twitter.com/NyleDiMarco/status/1075194951414226945

https://twitter.com/NyleDiMarco/status/1075199217751257088

For their part, Delta called the whole thing a miscommunication.

But Nyle isn’t the only deaf person this has happened to. In his Twitter mentions, others said they too have been greeted by unnecessary wheelchairs from different airlines. It’s unclear how or why this happens, as airlines have different processes for disabled people to get assistance. Delta’s website states that you can request different services if you are deaf or hard of hearing, and has a separate form for wheelchair requests. Meanwhile, others who do need wheelchairs said that they have had trouble getting them upon disembarking from flights on various airlines. In fact, much has been written about the barriers people who use wheelchairs face when traveling, including damaged wheelchairs and judgment and mistreatment ambulatory wheelchair users have reported.

Delta’s mistake is one of the funnier, innocuous snafus that Nyle’s been public about, but not all situations he encounters, seemingly because he’s deaf, are so lighthearted. Nyle has opened up about having to leave movie theaters because they aren’t accessible for deaf people, called out the occasions when deafness was used as the butt of a joke, and has combatted the “inspiration porn” videos that show deaf children hearing for the first time.

https://twitter.com/NyleDiMarco/status/1074671702838272001

https://twitter.com/NyleDiMarco/status/1074673046399696897

Teen Vogue has reached out to Nyle to see if he has comment on the situation.

You may view the news article from this link:

https://www.teenvogue.com/story/nyle-dimarco-said-an-airline-gave-him-a-wheelchair-after-a-flight-seemingly-because-hes-deaf

Happy 123rd Independence Day, Philippines!

My beloved country is celebrating its 123rd Independence Day today, June 12. We have been under the Spanish colony for 333 years and on that fateful day, our heroes decided that enough is enough. We need to break away from the slavery of the colonizers and establish our own identity.

Some leaders of each country greeted the Filipinos on its important day, one of whom is the personal greeting of current American President Joe Biden. After Spain, its the United States who took over and colonized our country until 1941 when the Japanese invaded us during World War II.

This year, Manila Christian Computer Institute for the Deaf made a special message greeting and posted it in our Official Facebook and Instagram pages.

“Maligayang Araw ng Kasarinlan, Pilipinas”

The oversized head of a small girl donning an “I-Love-You” sign is designed by our deaf teacher Ervin.

Last year, we created two special greeting image posts.

Pilipinas Kong Mahal, Filipino Sign Language Font using 1-4-3 Hand Sign holding the Philippine Flag
Happy Independence Day, Philippines with the comic image of one of the Filipino Heroes who is also a Person With Disability, Apolinario Mabini

“Happy Independence Day to Us!!!”

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