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Telephone service for the deaf
20 March 2009
According to data from the Ministerio de Educación, Política Social y Deporte, nearly a million people in Spain suffer from some sort of hearing impairment. This collective has communication difficulties that become even more challenging when said communication must be carried out via a phone call, for example when arranging a doctor’s appointment.
Professors from the Departamento de Electrónica of the UAH and researchers from the UPM, working in collaboration with the Instituto de Ciencias del Hombre, have developed a telephone service named TELESOR that offers the hearing impaired a facilitated access to telephone communications. This new system, created by the British company DSPG Telecom, offers a deaf person an equivalent service to what a hearing person would receive via a normal telephone call.
Thanks to TELESOR, a deaf person can communicate in real time with their mobile phone or PDA through any telephone service they choose. This service works in a similar way to a chat; explains José Luis Martín Sánchez, the researcher from the Universidad de Alcalá who, together with Santiago Aguilera Navarro from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM), is responsible for the TELESOR project. With this service a hearing impaired individual can type the message they wish to communicate on their PDA, mobile phone or textphone, and send it to the institution's phone number. An operator would then receive the text on a computer and convey a text response to the sender’s device.
To achieve this, JAVA programming language has been used on the mobile phones and Windows ME operating system on the PDAs. The textphones use a binary code of zeroes and ones. One of the great advantages that TELESOR offers is that deaf people no longer require an intermediary to mediate their telephone communications. It is also important to note that this service offers the added benefit of allowing a deaf-mute access to the emergency telephone service (112). All processes are simplified and become more efficient, states Mr Martín Sánchez. The Universidad de Alcalá and the UPM offer the Instituto Ciencias del Hombre the technical consultation required for the foundation to commercialize TELESOR as well as advice on the implementation of communication protocols for the end users such as the Diputación de Sevilla, the first institution in Spain to introduce this information service.
Technology against disabilities
The Departamento de Electrónica of the UAH has several projects in the same line of investigation, endeavoring to improve the lives of sufferers of different disabilities. One of these projects involves a procedure of alternative augmentative communication that uses algorithms to predict words, aimed to help people with motor disabilities that impair speech. Another research project at the Universidad de Alcalá involves a system that will permit pentaplegic to be more autonomous. The goal is to translate a person’s thoughts into an instruction to a computer, for example if a person confined to a wheelchair thinks that he or she wants to go to the kitchen, the objective is that this would be sufficient for the wheelchair to take them there. This will be possible thanks to the fact that every thought stimulates particular areas of the brain and produces a chain of electrical impulses that can be detected with 4 electrodes placed on the head. The problem arises from the interference caused by the immense number of neurons present in the human brain and how to distinguish the information of interest for a particular order, explains Mr Martín Sánchez.
Technology offers great improvements for the handicapped, but there is still much work to be done. It is important to create forums where rehabilitators and engineers can discuss the needs of patients and the technical tools available today to improve the life of people who suffer any kind of disability. To achieve the goal of improving the life of the disabled, insists the researcher of the Universidad de Alcalá, technology will play a crucial role.