Catching up to the Future: Charting Your Own Courses
Editor: This TDI workshop was presented by Dr. Gregg Vanderheiden of
the Trace Center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He discusses
two "futuristic" ideas about how a person might interface with
It's sometimes hard to predict how fast a certain new technology will
spread. An example is the cell phone. When they first came out, the law
exempted them from the requirement to be hearing aid compatible (HAC),
because they were considered to be a specialty item. At the time, no one
envisioned them becoming a mainstream product, so HAC was not considered
to be a requirement.
Another example is the mushrooming of the Internet. Because it was
such new technology, no one really understood what it was or how it
should be regulated. So Congress left it pretty much alone. That's a
An example of technology that hasn't developed as fast as we expected
is speech recognition. For thirty years now we've been hearing that
reliable speech recognition is only three years away. Now it's useful,
but it's still not as good as we would like.
IBM is working on "superhuman speech recognition", the goal
of which is to be able to outperform a human. I wonder if they are
considering things like "deaf speech" or people with speech
disabilities. Or will this new technology work for everyone except those
I once visited a research organization that was developing a program
to check English grammar. Someone wrote out examples of ASL grammar [Ed:
which is very different from English grammar] and fed it to the program.
The program reported that there were NO errors. The reason is that the
developers had programmed it to look for grammar mistakes that English
users commonly make, and the examples didn't contain any of those. But
they were a long ways from grammatical English!
Siemen's has developed a Virtual Keyboard, which projects a picture
of a keyboard. A user types on the projected image and the Virtual
Keyboard is able to capture the intended keystrokes.
Several companies have developed virtual displays. The user wears a
pair of "glasses" and sees a display floating in front of him.
The display could be used for captioning.
Another exciting new technology is direct brain interfaces, in which
electrodes are inserted directly into the brain. The user is able to
control a joystick just by thinking about it. This is technology that
paralyzed people can use today!
We currently have a tiny pill that contains a camera. Potential
applications include an alternative to a traditional colonoscopy. We
will soon be able to inject a device into a vein and have it go to the
brain, where it will direct brain connections.
Today for $1000 you can buy a computer that has the processing
capability of a dragonfly; by 2023 $1000 will buy the processing power
of a human brain; by 2044, $1000 will buy the computing power of
everyone on the planet.
Universal Remote Console
The potential development of the Universal Remote Console (URC) shows
how being involved with a project from the start allows a person to make
huge fundamental differences.
Suppose anyone could control any device from anywhere using whatever
device is handy. The International Committee on Information Technology
Standards (ICITS) is working on this, and they are looking at using
standard technology to do it.
Suppose every device provided a virtual interface into which a user
could plug whatever device she liked. That concept provides a lot of
capabilities. It could easily include things like language translators,
The key to this is to be sure that it's universally accessible; if
the only interface is speech and you happen to use ASL, you are
completely excluded from the technology.
Personal Services on Demand
This concept provides remote services from any location. For example,
a person could send an audio stream somewhere, have it converted to text
or ASL and sent back. This is currently being done with a human in the
loop, but imagine if it could be an automated service. The current
problem is converting speech to text. Once that is overcome, the service
will be available.
When you make a phone call now, there is a continuous wire from your
phone to the other phone. VoIP (Voice over IP), which uses the Internet
to transmit phone calls, is just becoming mainstream. The attraction of
VoIP is that we don't need separate phone lines throughout the country,
because the phone conversation is just another type of data. Multiple
people can conduct different conversations at the same time using the
same infrastructure. This flexibility makes it easy to bring someone in
to assist if you have problems understanding (e.g., an
"on-demand" relay operator).
Here are some of the potential problems to be aware of:
- TTYs may or may not work with new technologies. It may be that one
works with the new stuff and another doesn't.
- New technologies may not work with each other.
- Public phones may not be accessible, or the type of accessibility
it provides may not be what your device uses.
- Do any VoIP phones have to be accessible? Some people are working
hard to make VoIP accessible.
A person may be charged more for a voice plus text call than for a
There are two opposing dangers concerning TTYs. One is that by trying
to maintain TTY compatibility, we stunt the opportunities to use new
technologies. The opposing danger is that by trying to maximize
opportunities with new technologies, we lose compatibility with older
Doing it right means that we create standards and technologies that
allow anyone using any technology to communicate with others using any
other technology, and the cost will be the same for all.
Projects We're Working On
SIP-TEA is a VoIP Client that simultaneous text, speech, and video.
It's a free program that runs on a standard PC.
T-Server provides interconnection between different technologies,
including standard telephones, VoIP, wireless, etc.
Our goal is to allow as many devices as possible to interact without
requiring transcoding device. It should all be "built in" to
T140 is a protocol that may replace Baudot [Ed: The standard TTY
protocol]. We need to replace it soon, because it really limits
Standards are KEY; if we are to have universal connectivity, we must
have standards and devices must adhere to them. We must get
accessibility incorporated into the standards.
Standards and regulatory bodies are having a hard time understanding
the problems. We need to be involved in the process to make sure it
works. We need deaf people to tell them what deaf people need.
We all need to stay informed and involved, because many quick
solutions are traps. The people making the decisions need to be exposed
to many different ideas and perspectives.
Q: Are you working to be sure that location information travels with
A: With IP, you don't know where it's coming from. 911 calls using VoIP
give no location info.
Q: Deaf people seem to be more willing to keep up with technology
than hearing people. Do you agree and how does that affect things?
A: Deaf people may be more adventuresome because they have more to gain.
Adding video to a phone is not very useful to a hearing person, but
vital to a deaf person. The best way to get accessibility in is to have
the feature desired by both deaf and hearing.
Q: Is it possible to develop a TTY protocol that will work
A: You might be able to create a means of encoding text that is so much
like speech that it can go anywhere that speech can go. But on the other
hand, we are not moving to converting speech to text, so that doesn't
make a lot of sense.