Deaf fish in a hearing pond, Part 1


As a deaf person who works in a predominantly hearing environment, I have a keen interest in anything that helps me break down communication barriers and engage with hearing people on as close to an equal footing as possible. So, every once in a while, I review the status of the market for accessibility aids for deaf people to see what’s new.

These accessibility aids range from physical devices to services and software that help deaf people communicate with hearing people. The common constant I notice during each market review is that pretty much everything I come across has one or more show-stopping problems. However, along with the show-stoppers, there’s usually at least one good idea behind each of those otherwise hilarious accessibility aids.

I was particularly intrigued by the UbiDuo 2, a device that lets people chat face to face in realtime.

UbiDuo 2

It’s a clamshell device that unfolds and splits into 2 separate devices that communicate over a wireless ZigBee connection. Each person types into their unit, and the other can see each keystroke happening in realtime. This makes for a much more fluid conversational experience compared to, say, paper and pen.

The problem with IM clients and conversing on paper is that there’s an inherent lag in the communication process. Using an IM application, one person types, and the other person twiddles their thumbs waiting for the typing party to finish and send. With a notepad, one person twiddles their thumbs waiting for the other party to finish scribbling and hand over the notepad. It’s just…clunky.

With something like an UbiDuo 2, there’s no wait. You’re watching each keystroke happen and seeing the other person’s thoughts being composed in realtime. It may not sound like a big difference, but it is–if you’re a hearing person, imagine how silly things would be if you could only communicate with other hearing people by dictating your message into a tape recorder and then passing the tape recorder to the other party, who then listens to the tape and then records their response. That’s the one brilliant point in the UbiDuo’s favor.

In the flaws column, there are a number of significant issues with it that limit its practicality for me. The unit is about the width and length of a 15″ laptop and weighs 4 pounds. Additionally, the MSRP of $1,995.00 is something I have an issue with. I just can’t bring myself to drop that kind of dough on an unitasker that I can’t fit into my messenger bag along with the rest of my other stuff, and I’m not about to load myself down with extra bags like some kind of tourist.

That got me to thinking, and since I like challenges, I decided to see if I could roll my own functionally equivalent setup for a fraction of the size and cost, and have some fun with it in the process. I’ll be documenting the journey here as I go along.

Update: Part 2 is up now! You can read it here.

2 thoughts on “Deaf fish in a hearing pond, Part 1

  1. Charles

    Wanna bet a pair of raspberry pi computers with 5″ or 7″ displays and rubber-rollup keyboards would do the trick for under $200 with the advantage that they could both be used for something other than simply typing at another person? The $9 C.H.I.P. would work equally well except it’s not yet available and, realistically, the big hardware expense on a project like you are proposing is the display and possibly custom case.

    Keep blogging this. I’m interested to see what you come up with.

  2. Christopher Roe Post author

    No bet–I’m entirely in agreement with you there! That was the fundamental issue I had with the $1995 price point–an unitasker that’s basically a severely crippled laptop with a half sized screen shouldn’t cost more than an Android tablet or a Chromebook.

    That $9 computer looks awesome!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.