Why Sign-Language Gloves Don't Help Deaf People

Publication Title
The Atlantic
Publication/Creation Date
November 7 2017
Michael Erard (creator)
Gary Grimes (contributor)
James Kramer (contributor)
Larry Leifer (contributor)
Ryan Patterson (contributor)
Hadeel Ayoub (contributor)
Darren Lipomi (contributor)
Carol Padden (contributor)
Thomas Pryor (contributor)
Navid Azodi (contributor)
Lance Forshay (contributor)
Kristi Winter (contributor)
Emily Bender (contributor)
Rachel Kolb (contributor)
Julie Hochgesang (contributor)
Darline Clark Gunsauls (contributor)
Stanford University (contributor)
University Of California At San Diego (contributor)
Cornell University (contributor)
University Of Washington (contributor)
Georgia Institute Of Technology (contributor)
Virginia Tech (contributor)
Gallaudet University (contributor)
Emory University (contributor)
Persuasive Intent
Michael Erard discusses the history and the controversy surrounding Sign Language gloves. These technology gloves have been developed in order to "translate" sign language into text or speech in real time. The Deaf community have challenged these assertions by noting that the intention of the glove is “rooted in the preoccupations of the hearing world, not the needs of Deaf signers”, and that the developers failed to consult with members of the Deaf community. 

In response to some of these inventions, two American Sign Language instructors and one linguist, in consultation with the Deaf community and other Deaf culture experts, wrote a letter outlining some of their critiques of the sign language glove trend. These technologies fail to take into account the complexities and intricacies of the language. ASL is not simply a string of signed words, but a rich visual language that uses hands, body movements, and facial expressions to convey grammar and nuanced meaning.  

The letter emphasizes other problems with sign language gloves: that they are examples of cultural appropriation ("college students were gaining accolades and scholarships for technologies based on an element of Deaf culture, while Deaf people themselves are legally and medically underserved"), and that they place all responsibility on the Deaf person "to accommodate to the standards of communication of the hearing person.”
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