Rochester, New York, has the highest population per capita of deaf people in the United States. According to a new report by Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), there are almost 42,000 deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals in the Rochester community. Of those, almost 19,000 are under the age of 65.

RIT has become a hub for the development of assistive and accessibility technologies for people with disabilities. A number of former students from RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) are now at the forefront of developing ways to eliminate communication barriers between businesses and deaf individuals.

Recent decades have seen a rapid increase in the use of smartphones, tablets and computers as a preferred means of communication. The adoption of these technologies has put those who are deaf or hard of hearing on an equal footing with those without hearing loss.

But how can deaf individuals communicate as efficiently face-to-face?

Three deaf RIT/NTID graduates took it upon themselves to create a technology that would enable two-way communication between the deaf and the hearing. They were able to achieve this with their MotionSavvy UNI platform. The software and hardware solution is a breakthrough in terms of communication for deaf individuals.

With an integrated camera and technology similar to Microsoft’s motion-sensing device, Kinect, the UNI tablet can read sign language. Using motion-capture technology, UNI can track the motion of both hands and all 10 fingers at incredible speed. The platform can then convert the sign language into grammatically correct audible speech in real time. When the hearing person

responds, UNI uses the built-in microphone and voice recognition software to convert the speech into text. The generated text is displayed on-screen for the deaf person to read.

UNI is an amazing device that has the potential to dramatically improve the lives of deaf individuals.

A pilot program is due to be tested at Rochester Airport, making it the first airport in the US to be fully accessible to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.