BALTIMORE—When Google Glass came onto the market this spring, many technophiles celebrated the arrival of this tiny, head-mounted computer that would allow them to make phone calls, view maps, send texts, and take videos while out jogging or riding a bike.
Others, though, viewed this latest futuristic product from Google with alarm, fearing for their privacy if Glass wearers started secretly taking photos and recording private conversations wherever they went. In fact, some places, including some bars, Las Vegas casinos, and the West Virginia State Legislature have barred people from entering their premises wearing Google Glass, which looks like an empty eyeglass frame with a mobile computing device built into the right earpiece.
What no one was talking about when the product first came out was how it might benefit people with hearing loss. But, it appears, Glass may do just that.
Last month, Google announced that the Hearing and Speech Agency (HASA), a non-profit agency in Baltimore, was one of five winners of $25,000 grants awarded by the company’s nationwide Giving through Glass program. According to Google, the program’s goal is to “champion people and projects that are combatting the biggest human challenges of the 21st century.” Google selected the winning applications “based on four key criteria: impact, innovation, feasibility and implementation.”
HOW HASA WILL USE ITS GRANT
HASA, which was one of 1300 organizations in the country that competed for the grants, plans to explore, develop, and pilot new ways that Glass can help people who have communication difficulties and to support those who teach and care for them in community, therapeutic, and educational settings.
In an e-mail interview with this blog, Tammy Black, director of communications at HASA, said that her agency works with people with a variety of communication challenges and differences. Therefore, she said, “We plan to have three separate teams working on Google Glass projects simultaneously.”
Black added, “One team will utilize Glass as a tool in our interpreting work and to improve access for the deaf/hard of hearing community through a variety of apps, one of which will include a speech-to-text mechanism (think captions within your glasses). We also anticipate utilizing Glass as part of our remote interpreting (VRI) projects that currently take place on a tablet or computer.”
She said that some HASA therapists and educators “will use Glass to record sessions for later review, to share milestones with parents and caregivers, and to identify patterns of speech or behavior in students. We already utilize teletherapy with some of our clients, and are looking forward to incorporating Glass into that work, as well.”
Soon after the Giving Through Glass grants were awarded, Tammy Black and Erin Medley, a teacher of the deaf at HASA, went to Google headquarters in Mountain View, CA, for training on the use of Glass. There they joined representatives of the four other grant recipients: 3,000 Miles to a Cure, Classroom Champions, Mark Morris Dance Group, and Women’s Audio Mission.
The Hearing and Speech Agency provides professional services for people with speech or language disorders, autism, deafness, or communication disabilities. These services include audiology, speech therapy, and American Sign Language interpreting.
Susan Glasgow, executive director of HASA, said that it was “very gratifying to be recognized by Google for our innovative spirit. We look forward to using Glass.”
ANOTHER STUDY OF GLASS
Meanwhile, another nearby institution, the University of Maryland, in College Park, is conducting its own research on how Google Glass can help people with hearing problems.
A research team in the Department of Computer Science is studying how to make the next generation of mobile computing technology more accessible. Specifically, it is exploring the use of Glass to provide visual information about sound, such as where sound is coming from and who is speaking in a group conversation.
For this purpose, the school has been recruiting deaf and hard-of-hearing adults to take parts in hands-on activity with Google Glass and then collecting feedback on their experiences. All spaces in the initial study were quickly filled. However, those interested in taking part in future studies (participants are paid $50) may fill out an online questionnaire. Further information on the University of Maryland Google Glass program is available online.