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How To Learn Sign Language

A Communication Device for Deaf-Blind People: Tom Bieling at TEDxTallinn

Translator: Jerson Partible
Reviewer: Denise RQ So, I was invited to tell my story, but telling my story would either mean
to talk about my favourite football team, which I can assure you,
would not be a good idea at the moment, or it would be about some other topics
that I’m dealing with every day, basically related to design research in the context of interaction technology, so it would basically be about how people
interact with things and with machines. Which I’m sure, some of you
already know a lot about, and some of you might find
a little bit dry or abstract. So instead of telling my story, I would prefer to start with a short story about a very nice old lady
called Marianne. And Marianne used to live in a small town not far away from my hometown, Cologne. And Marianne was very interesting,
but also a very interested person. She was always curious about the things
that happened in the world, and so she was curious – She always wanted to know more,
she wanted to learn stuff, so she was curious
about science, about technology. And she was into art
and cultural activities, she read a lot of books, she also wrote little stories,
short poems. She knew a lot, she traveled a lot, so she always had interesting stories
to tell from her experiences. And generally, Marianne was absorbing
a lot of information, and she was also one of those persons who loved to share
this information with other people, and that was the reason why
she was always surrounded by many people. She had a lot of friends,
and they loved her because of her stories, because of her knowledge,
because of her empathy. She was a very social person,
she was a good listener, so people would come to her place when they needed advice
or when they had problems, or they would just come and hang around
at her place to have a good time. So Marianne was a very happy person, even when she found out
that she was going to lose her sight. So her eyes got worse. But even that didn’t seem
to bother her so much, on the one hand,
it was a kind of a process, so it didn’t happen
from one day to another. It started with night blindness, later, she had this kind of tunnel view, in the end, she was almost
completely blind. She was a very positive,
a very optimistic person, she was also very pragmatic. So Marianne said, “Well,
people get old, and when they do, they just cannot do things anymore
as good as they used to do.” So she said, “I’m getting old,
I might become blind, that’s how it is. That’s life. I’m going to face
this situation, and I’m going to be OK, as long as I can still do
most of the stuff that I like.” And she did. Marianne would still go out
and meet people, she would invite them to her place,
and she would go to travel, she would go and visit art exhibitions,
she would go to the cinema or theater, so she would do
most of the stuff she did before, and she would still absorb
a lot of information and share it with other people. So actually, not much changed
in Marianne’s life. Of course, some things changed, and also she had to change
some of her habits. For example, she stopped reading books, but instead, she started listening
to audio books quite a lot. Some things didn’t work that well. She tried to learn the Braille language, but it wasn’t really her kind of thing,
she felt too old for it. And she also had the impression
that she wasn’t really in need for that, because she felt
she had everything she needed. Also, her kids and her husband
would read out loud important newspaper articles for her, so Marianne was fine with that,
and she was still happy. Until she found out that,
besides losing her sight, she was also going to lose
her ability to hear, so her ears also got worse. And this was probably
the first moment in Marianne’s life where she really got worried, she really
got a little bit nervous because she said, “How is this going to work?
What am I going to do? How am I going to live my life? How am I going to communicate
with my people? Where will I get my information from?
How am I going to do that?” So she got nervous,
but again, this was a process. So it didn’t happen
from one day to another, she still had some time to prepare
herself for that situation, and even though she was
in her 90s already, she became really active in this topic, and she really got curious
about all those things, she dived deep into the topic
of visual and auditory impairment, she found out about deaf-blind people, and how some of them can communicate, and she also learned about a certain way that some deaf-blind people
have to communicate with each other which is the so-called LORM alphabet. [This] is some kind
of tactile hand touch alphabet, where certain characters are assigned
to certain areas in the hand, and it basically works
by touching each other. So people place the sentences, place the characters and words
into each other’s hands. So Marianne said, “I’m going to do this,
I’m going to learn it,” and she did, and so did her family members
and some of her close friends; so by the time she was almost
completely blind and deaf, she would have about a dozen people who she could communicate with, which was very helpful indeed. But of course, life changed a lot
to the way it was before. It became much,
much more difficult to her, not only to her, but also
to her beloved ones and her relatives and things were much,
much more different now. Even though she had
those 10 or 12 people to talk to, it wasn’t the same. Before, even when she was
only visually impaired, she would be able to talk
to anybody in the world, and she did, and now she only had
these few people who spoke her language, and even these few people
were not always reachable to her. Because if she wanted to talk to a person, she really needed this person
right next to her, because she had to touch the persons
in order to speak to them. So this was difficult to her,
she had this barrier, the barrier of language,
the barrier of distance communication. But still, she was
a positive and happy person, and people would perceive her like that,
like a happy person, until the time when two
of her beloved daughters had to move away; they moved because of job reasons,
they had to move to other cities, and that was the second time
in Marianne’s life where she really got nervous,
scared, angry even, she got really sad, and in the end, she got really depressed
about this situation, because she knew
she was going to lose them. She didn’t have much time left,
she was very old already, she wouldn’t have the chance to literally stay in touch
with her daughters. Marianne died when she was 93, and most of her life she was,
as I said, a very happy person, and she probably didn’t die
because of depression, but people who knew her, they knew
that her last couple of months, she was a sad person
and almost a kind of a broken personality. And this is where Marianne’s story ends, and it would’ve been interesting
to meet this person a little bit earlier, especially since
at our design research lab, we are currently developing
a so-called mobile LORM glove, which is a communication device that translates the German LORM alphabet
into digital text and vice versa. And therefore, we use
small fabric pressure sensors that are located in the palm of the glove that allow the deaf-blind user
to compose text messages that are transmitted
to the receiver’s phone or computer, and on the back of the glove,
we have small vibrating motors that allow the wearer
to perceive incoming messages, so now it really becomes possible
to send and receive messages, we have a small Bluetooth module
that transmits the data to the smartphone, so now you can send any message
from either one glove to another glove, or from a glove to a computer, or you can send it to a mobile phone, and of course you can also send it
the other way back. So you can send SMS, or e-mail, which also allows you to talk
to more than one person at the same time, which can be very interesting, if we think in terms
of including students into a classroom, or generally, people into society. So, to come back to Marianne’s story, I must admit it had a little sad ending, and to be quite honest with you,
I made it up. I didn’t make up the mobile LORM glove,
but I made up the character, Marianne. There is no Marianne, at least no such person
that I personally know. But what I do know is that there are
many more people like her out there, and I’ve been working together
with some of them, during the last couple of months, and we can be quite optimistic
that less of them might have to suffer from things like depression
in the near future. In Germany, we have
about 3,000 to 6,000 deaf-blind people. Not all of them can actually learn
the LORM language, but the ones who can, and the ones who would be able
to use such device like the glove, might have a better chance to be more integrated
and included into our society. Which brings me back to my story,
and to what I said in the beginning. I am a design researcher,
and I’m deeply interested in the social impact that design has, and the social impact
that design can have, because obviously, we designers, do not only shape
the things that surround us, but we also shape the social processes
that are related to these things. Thus, we designers also have an impact on how such things like a disability
can have an impact on a person’s life. So instead of talking about
disabilities so much, I think it would be a better idea
to go out, and actually start to design abilities. Thank you very much. (Applause)

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