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Frontiers
Computer Interface Helps Deaf-Blind Community

November/December 1998

Krista Caudill, a deaf and blind undergraduate researcher at the University of Delaware, is helping to design a portable computer that will "speak" as she types, and translate other people's speech into Braille.

She will evaluate the computer in the real-world setting of her campus, while researchers study the impact on communication when a computer translates information from one format to another, such as from the spoken word to Braille. The project is being funded by NSF and is intended to eliminate the total dependence that Caudill and others like her have on sign-language interpreters.

Richard Foulds, of A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, received the NSF grant and serves as the project's principal investigator, overseeing Caudill's work. Caudill and a colleague, Beth Finn, have already developed a conceptual design that was selected as a winner in the student design competition of the Rehabilitation Engineering Society.

"Computers have such potential to open doors to better communication for people with disabilities, and for all people," said Gary Strong, deputy division director in NSF's Division of Information and Intelligent Systems. "By understanding how computers can mediate communication, we can help not only Krista and the deaf-blind community, but potentially everyone."

Caudill, who has been deaf and blind since childhood, must rely on an interpreter for face-to-face interactions with people who do not know sign language. But the cost and ability to schedule trained interpreters makes spontaneous, one-on-one conversations difficult.

"This system will help me tremendously," said Caudill. "I will be able to communicate with other people who don't know sign language. I will be able to have conversations with a group of people, such as a study group, or carry the laptop and use the system in public. It will also help other people who are like me."

See Cover Story: Adaptive Technologies Encourage Independent Learning


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