BYU Invention helps deaf planetarium visitors

Summarized by Rachel Janis, staff writer

Tyler Foulger, a deaf senior at Brigham Young University, cannot experience the same dazzling magic of a planetarium that hearing people can.

“Even with an interpreter in the room, it is still difficult to have a good experience since I have to continually switch my attention back and forth between the interpreter and the planetarium show, causing me to miss parts of the narration/show,” Foulger says.

In order to accommodate deaf children, a team at BYU has created “signglasses,” glasses that allow sign-language narration to project onto its surface while watching the planetarium show. This technology will permit students to watch both the show and a sign-language interpreter at the same time.

Michael Jones, a BYU computer science professor who worked with Foulger and other students on the project, stated that deaf children “can either look at what’s being talked about or what’s being said, but if they’re not in the same place, it’s difficult to look at both.”

Jones said the idea for signglasses came from Jeannette Lawler, the planetarium director at BYU. He explained that Lawler would have to sporadically raise and lower the lights so that an interpreter could sign when deaf children visited the planetarium, and on-screen written captions wouldn’t be the best solution when dealing with children.

With the help of children from the Jean Massieu School of the Deaf in Millcreek, Jones and his team began testing the technology about year and a half ago. Jones’ team was able to improve the technology by recording the children’s preferences, such as placing the interpreter’s projection into the center of the glasses rather than off to the side so they didn’t have to constantly refocus their attention back and forth.

David Oyler, a science teacher at the school, reflects on the experience: “It meant the world. A lot of them don’t have any opportunities like this. As a science teacher, it excites me to no end to be able to provide these opportunities.”

Along with continuing to work on the technology, Jones also plans to present the team’s findings at an interaction Design and Children conference in Denmark later this month. He believes that this technology could also be beneficial to deaf students on field trips to museums or historical sites, or even while performing activities in the classroom.

Foulger believes signglasses will help make up for lost time deaf students usually have to spend switching their attention between interpreters and teachers. Although Foulger reflects that it most likely won’t provide an equal playing field, “it will come pretty close to bridging the gap between deaf and hearing students.”

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