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!

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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.

We all started to love the deaf by loving their language first

I never dreamed of being engrossed with the deaf, much less being near them. But I was fascinated by their language. It’s soo beautiful. Every movement has meaning. The graceful flow of hands, the moods of body, the flickering of fingers; all suggest a variety of definitions. I believe most of my hearing colleagues would agree with me that we all started to love the deaf by loving their language first.” <- an inspiring quote/experience to end the love month. Cheers!🤟🤟🤟

https://www.fb.com/fdeahp

Infinix Hot 10 Play Unboxing in Sign Language

Unboxings and first tries by many video bloggers have been flourishing on many social media sites. Some of them became famous and have earned respect from other people due to their in-depth and creative insights about the gadgets that they explain to the public. Some became “experts” in these fields. They help us make wiser decisions whether we purchase them or not by making them “try first before we buy“.

Now, what about the deaf community? I am not aware of anyone from the sector who tried this. I tried googling it and found no one even in the international scene. I hope, our Filipino deaf can start the trend.

So without much fanfare, may I introduce you to the second unboxing of a smartphone by our deaf student, Kennel Alonzo… He will be explaining first hand Infinix Hot 10 Play, the latest budget phone of Infinix Mobile, a Hongkong based smartphone company . Launched last January 23, this phone was unboxed, tested, and reviewed. This YouTube video is shorter (more than 6 minutes) than the first one, yet packed a more complete information including sample camera photos and video tests.

Here it is:

Subtitle is already embedded while the voice is in our local Tagalog language. Still, Kennel signs using Filipino Sign Language.

To all my blog subscribers, please support our deaf video bloggers by watching this video and sharing it to your friends. To watch the first unboxing video, you may go to my blog link below.

Unboxing of a gadget the Deaf Way

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Congress files bill declaring FSL and Deaf Week every September

House Representative Alfred Vargas of Quezon City recently filed House Bill No. 7753 declaring the last full week of September of every year as the “National Week of the Deaf” and September 23 as “Filipino Sign Language Day.”
On its official Facebook post, the Philippine Federation of the Deaf announced this news and offered its sincerest gratitude to Congressman Vargas who authored this bill.

Congressman Alfred Vargas

The bill was filed in compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities and the international advocacy of the World Federation of the Deaf.  It’s purpose is to
instill public awareness of the human rights situation of the Filipino Deaf, in line with the International Week of the Deaf… and for the purpose of promoting recognition and acceptance of Filipino Sign Language as a symbol of the need of the deaf for inclusion and as a reminder of individual’s and the state’s duty to accord due respect to people who are deaf and their linguistic and cultural identity, in line with the International Day of Sign Languages.
The bill is now pending with the Committee on PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES since September 29. You may get the full text of the bill by going to the official website of the Philippine House of Representatives here in PDF Format.
This humble blogger salutes Cong. Alfred Vargas for recognizing us and our cause. Let us support him by thanking him for this advocacy by commenting to his official Facebook page. Mabuhay po kayo!

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