The impact of technology on the hearing impaired

It is important that technology is accessible to the hearing impaired because it can improve their quality of life, comfort and convenience, said Vitayot Bunag, president of the National Association of the Deaf in Thailand.

“If new technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), prove useful, they should be welcomed and embraced,” he said in a recent interview with Thai PBS World.

While controversy continues over whether AI can replace humans in various areas of expertise, one often-overlooked group potentially affected by AI is people with disabilities.

Withayoot added that he displayed the typed text of his preferred drink from his mobile phone at a coffee shop, streamlining the process of getting the desired drink.

He acknowledged that simple gestures remain practical, especially in market settings.

Meanwhile, Kritsada Khobsahai, a committee member of the National Association of the Deaf, said the technology is proving extremely useful.

“Through cell phones and messaging apps like Line, deaf people can communicate through text. I have used the Live Transcribe app to convert voice to text during lectures,” said Kritsada.

Thawatchai Ngamthanaphaisarn, secretary general of the association stressed that despite technological advances, challenges still exist for the deaf, especially during emergencies.

He said: “They cannot hear and must rely on monitoring their surroundings and following others during emergencies.”

“Access to knowledge is limited. If information is provided in audio format, it becomes inaccessible, reducing learning opportunities,” added Withayoot,

Thai Telecommunication Relay Services (TTRS) video application and video call broadcast service has been deployed in Thailand. This service facilitates sign language conversations through apps for smartphones or tablets with internet connectivity, featuring sign language interpreters providing assistance.

From left, Vitayut Bunag, President; Thawatchai Ngamthanaphaisarn, Secretary General; and Kritsada Khobsahai, Guest Relations Officer; of the National Association of the Deaf in Thailand.

For those less inclined to use smartphones, the TTRS Kiosk offers a mechanism to connect deaf people with interpreters, translating audio into sign language.

In Japan, AI has been embraced for the betterment of the deaf community.

The Media Innovation Center of NHK, Japan’s state broadcaster, is actively working on developing a web service featuring computer graphics (CG) for sign language. This service is specifically designed for weather forecasting and emergency communication.

When considering the choice between AI and sign language interpreters, Kritsada suggested a preference for interpreters in situations requiring facial expressions. For simpler scenarios like those encountered in coffee shops or ATMs, however, the AI ​​proves acceptable.

Thawatchai agrees, mentioning reservations about the effectiveness of AI in more complex situations, such as general meetings with voting.

Withayoot added that “In hospital situations, a sign language interpreter is safer and more convenient. For casual conversations, however, AI may be sufficient.”

However, all three agree that full adoption of AI is possible if it closely resembles a real translator, with precise body movements and facial expressions.

Integrating technology to support the deaf community presents both opportunities and challenges.

Continued collaboration between technology developers, the deaf community and advocates is critical to shaping a future where technology is seamlessly integrated, ensuring accessibility and acceptance among professionals for a more inclusive world.

by Neeranuch Kunakorn

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