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May 12, 2004

Video links for the deaf

From: The Scotsman, UK - May 12, 2004


RESEARCHERS at Aberdeen's Robert Gordon University are developing video-conferencing systems specifically designed for deaf users.

The aim of the research is to improve the quality of visual communications for people with impaired hearing by developing new videophone systems that transmit important image features with the best-possible results.

Dr Iain Richardson and Laura Muir, of the university's Image Communication Technology Group, are leading the research with support from the Scottish Council on Deafness and local volunteers.

Dr Richardson explained yesterday that current videophone technology could prove frustrating for deaf users because of poor-quality images and "jerky" movements on the computer screen. He said: "Videotelephony [two-way visual communications over computer networks] is a key enabling technology for the deaf community. Our initial experiments are designed to find out which parts of a sign-language video clip convey the most information."

Using an eye-tracking system, the research team has recorded the eye movements of deaf users as they watch a video-clip of sign language. The results have shown that a typical user concentrates on the face, with occasional glances to pick up hand shapes.

Using these results, a method for improving the quality of visual communications for deaf people has been developed.

The new approach is being tested with deaf people in the Aberdeen area, with a view to developing a video-conferencing system that is better suited to the needs of deaf users in the near future.