Techno Gloves That “Translate” Sign Language Into Speech

by J. Conor Crockett | September 2, 2020

The Daily Bruin published a news article written by Noah Danesh on August 3, 2020 titled: “A Glove Developed by UCLA Researchers That Can Translate ASL into Speech”.

Engineers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) designed an electronic glove that could convert American Sign Language into English in real time. The wearable device has sensors that run the length of each of the five fingers. These sensors pick up the motion of the hands and finger placement that stand for individual numbers, letters, words or phrases. Those signals are then sent wirelessly to a smartphone, which then translates them into spoken words at a rate of one word per second. The glove can analyze up to 660 different gestures and has a recognition rate over 98%. [1]

The project team presented the gloves as to “improve accessibility” for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. “Our hope is that this opens up an easy way for people who use sign language to communicate directly with non-signers without needing someone else to translate for them. In addition we hope it can help more people learn sign language themselves,” said Jun Chen, the assistant professor of bioengineering at the UCLA, Samueli School of Engineering. [2]

The concept of sign language translation technology is not new. The basic idea dates back to the year 1988 when Stanford University researchers James Krammer and Larry Leifer invented the first “Talking Glove” as an intention to ease communication barriers between deaf and hearing people, but the system cost $3,500, not including the glove itself. [3]

Over the years, similar designs have been a repeated phenomenon, and have failed to make it to the marketplace because it was too costly. However, the most recent project from UCLA and other engineering organizations started designing low-cost smart gloves and started to gain notoriety on social media.

I personally find that these gloves are not good for deaf or hard of hearing people, because the potential of such devices are commonly overstated. Sign language technology is far behind their spoken counterparts, because of the fact that sign language is articulated not only through the hands, but also shifts in the orientation in the torso, arms, and facial expression that the gloves can not pick up. In addition, these inventions are often not checked with members of the deaf community. This is considered as a sign language constituted cultural appropriation.

I am not the only person to feel this way. “I was surprised and felt somehow betrayed because they obviously didn’t check with the Deaf community or even check with ASL program teachers to make sure they were representing our language appropriately,” said Lance Forshay, who directs the ASL program at the University of Washington. [4]

For many deaf Americans and ASL linguistics, they see this as an audist establishment. They believed that the gloves catered to hearing people and not the deaf or hard of hearing, because the signers must make an effort to serve and accommodate the standards of a hearing person. “This tech is redundant because deaf signers already make extensive use of text-to-speech or text translation software on their phones, or simply write with a pen or paper or even gesture clearly”. [5] These gloves, they argued, would create more of a burden than a solution to many difficulties they already faced in education, employment, community involvement, and civil rights.

Works Cited

[1]. Danesh, Noah. A Glove Developed by UCLA Researchers That Can Translate ASL Into English. August 3, 2020.

 [2]. Hooper, Ben. Researchers Develop Glove To Translate American Sign Language. June 30, 2020.

[3] [4]. Eard, Michael. Why Sign-Language Gloves Don’t Help Deaf People. November 9, 2017.

[5]. Picheta, Rob. This New High-Tech Glove Translate Sign Language Into Speech In Real Time. July 1, 2020.


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