Many of you have probably seen the article in the Huffington Post “Students Invented Gloves That Can Translate Sign Language into Speech and Text” or some version of it. People outside of the Deaf Community see something like this and respond in ways such as, “wow, technology is amazing!” “Oh, that is so great to help those poor hearing impaired people,” or “how great for them to easily communicate with us.” These are all meant in very kind, supportive ways. The majority of the population does not even realize they have what the deaf and hard of hearing community would refer to as “hearing privilege”. We assume that the Deaf community wants to function like hearing and this allows them a small bit of access to do that. The questions that I pose in response to this invention are as follows: Where is their access to new information? That’s wonderful they can have a “voice”, but after they talk, how do they receive the response in their native language? Where is the true equal access to information in what is ultimately a one-sided conversation? Who is held accountable when there is a technological “glitch” and some translation goes horribly wrong and there is no one there to interpret that?
I understand and respect where the hearing community is coming from. The hearing community have never walked a day in the shoes of a Deaf person. Chances are, hearing people have never been surrounded by a world where our access to information has been limited, hindering our understanding and chances for success. Imagine being surrounded by people, not knowing what was being said around, behind, or even to us. We take advantage of the amazing amount of knowledge we receive simply by overhearing conversations and comments around us. Let me put this in perspective: as I am sitting here typing this, I have learned that the CEO of Thirty-One actually goes to the factories in China; I have learned that we are struggling to fill an appointment that came as an ASAP; I have learned that there is an issue with our phones and only one of them is ringing; I have also learned there are Kolaches in the scheduling office. As a Deaf person I would not have obtained any of this information inadvertently. That is hearing privilege. We all have it, we all take advantage of it, but for most of us it is unintentional.
I hope this has shown you a different perspective regarding ease of communication and the exchange of information. As a working professional interpreter, the intention of an invention like this is wonderful and to be admired, but at the end of the day, are we really closer to equal access?
-Katie Carlson, ASL Interpreting Supervisor