September 1, 2013 Departments

News in Brief: September 2013

Software Translates Sign Language Into Text

Software developed for Microsoft's Kinect—a motion-sensing input device for the Xbox 360 video game console and Windows computers—successfully translates American Sign Language into text. Researchers from Microsoft Asia and the Institute of Computing Technology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences developed the system and demonstrated it at the 2013 Faculty Summit, an annual Microsoft conference that promotes information technology sharing in the academic community.

Although a computer system that recognizes and translates hand gestures to text might seem unnecessary—people who are deaf or hard of hearing can simply type words and sentences using a keyboard and read those typed to them—it allows ASL-users to communicate in their native language using a computer. To date, similar efforts have been less than successful—some require the user to wear gloves, others rely on simple web cams—and have not proven to be practical.

The system operates in two modes. The translation mode translates physical hand or body movements into text or speech. The communication mode allows a person using ASL to communicate with someone else who is communicating in typed English. Using an avatar, the system translates incoming text from someone typing on a keyboard, then converts the ASL user's response to text and sends it back to the other person. The system is capable of translating sentences, not just words.

Communication Aids and Systems Clinic Wins McLean Yoder Award

The Communication Aids and Systems Clinic of the University of Wisconsin–Madison received the 2013 McLean-Yoder Award for Professional Excellence from the National Joint Committee for the Communicative Needs of Persons With Severe Disabilities.

The award was named for David Yoder and James McLean, preeminent research scientists in the areas of communication and intellectual impairment. The award was established to honor an individual or team that exemplifies high-quality professional service to individuals with severe disabilities. Nominations were solicited from throughout the United States and judged according to the NJC's published quality indicators specific to communication assessment, goal setting and program implementation.

Billy Ogletree, NJC chair, said the clinic's "tireless attempts to find funding for prescribed alternative and augmentative communication equipment and services reflect a never-say-die attitude necessary in today's world. This team clearly targets what is best for individuals with significant communication needs."

The NJC encourages nominations of innovative providers and teams. Nominations are open year round on the our website.

FCC Tightens Standards for Speech-to-Speech Relay Service

People with a speech disability who use telephone relay services will be able to do so more easily because of improved provider standards issued by the Federal Communications Commission in June.

Speech-to-speech uses specially trained operators to relay a conversation between the individual with a speech disability—who uses his or her own assistive voice device—and a second party. Operators are trained to understand a variety of speech disorders; that knowledge enables them to repeat what the caller says to the other party.

The FCC order amends certain mandatory minimum standards to improve the relay service:

  • Operators must stay with a call for a minimum of 20 minutes before transferring the call to another operator.
  • Relay service users may opt to have only the operator, and not the other party, hear their voice.
  • Speech-to-speech systems must be as easy to reach as other types of telephone relay services.

The FCC also issued a notice of proposed rulemaking and is seeking comments on whether it should adopt additional recommendations on improving speech-to-speech relay services.

Autism Screening Task Force Incorporates ASHA Suggestions

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force will include ASHA's recommendations in its efforts to develop recommendation on autism screening in young children.

The task force, an independent panel of non-federal primary care providers who are experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine, conducts scientific evidence reviews of preventive health care services. It then develops recommendations for primary care clinicians and health systems.

As a member of the autism topic group, ASHA submitted comments on the task force's draft research plan, which outlines the framework and key review questions. The task force accepted two ASHA recommendations: to broaden one of the outcomes to include communication in addition to language, and to address the effect of culture and language on screening outcomes.

The task force made these changes:

  • Revised a question to state: "What is the effect of interventions targeting young children (in preschool and elementary school) on the following outcomes: core ASD symptoms, cognitive and intellectual functioning, language and communication skill development, challenging behavior, adaptive behavior, educational placement/achievement, and quality of life for the child and family?"
  • Added: "What is the effect of intervention timing (by age and in relation to the establishment of a definitive diagnosis) on treatment outcomes? What is the effect of severity of ASD on treatment outcomes?"
  • Added: "Do other characteristics of the child or family (e.g., intellectual disability, socioeconomic status, literacy level, insurance status, race/ethnicity, primary language spoken in home, limited English proficiency) modify the performance characteristics of ASD screening tests?"

Look for more information in future issues of the Leader.

Prenatal Smoking Linked to Kids' Hearing Loss

New York University School of Medicine researchers have found that in utero exposure to tobacco smoke may cause sensorineural hearing loss. In an analysis of adolescents ages 12 to 15 from the 2005–2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, teens who had been exposed to smoking in utero were roughly three times more likely to have mild hearing loss. Kids without exposure also were found to hear better by three decibels in comparison with those who were exposed.

Researchers found negative effects even when the mothers quit smoking in their first trimester of pregnancy. The study, published in JAMA Otolaryngology, could not determine how, exactly, the damage is caused or what the exact long-term effects may be. But it did report hearing loss could lead to other problems for youngsters, including cognitive and behavioral issues affecting academic and social skills, or even other problems such as a lower IQ and dropping out of school.


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